Findings on First-Year Salaries from the 2019 Associate Salary Survey

NALP Bulletin, June 2019

NALP's new 2019 Associate Salary Survey report shows that the overall median first-year base salary as of January 1, 2019, was $155,000, up $20,000 (14.8%) from 2017, the year of the most recent previous survey administration. In both survey years law firms of 251+ lawyers accounted for about 70% of responses. Median first-year base salaries in 2019 for firm sizes of 51-100 lawyers ($115,000), 101-250 lawyers ($115,000), and 501-700 lawyers ($160,000) were flat or relatively flat compared to 2017. Median first-year base salaries at firms of 50 or fewer lawyers rebounded somewhat in 2019 ($98,750) after falling to $90,000 in 2017, but were still down from $121,500 in 2015. Some modest growth was also seen in firm sizes of 251-500 lawyers, with median first-year base salaries moving from $150,000 in 2017 to $160,000 in 2019 (6.7% increase). The most salary growth was seen in firm sizes of 701+ lawyers, where median base salaries increased $25,000 from $155,000 in 2017 to $180,000 in 2019 (16.1% increase). See Chart 1 to further explore these trends.

It is important to note that because the respondent pool for the survey, both with respect to firm size and even within firm size, varies from year to year, use of the Associate Salary Survey data across different years to discern trends should be done with caution, since these reports do not contain salary scales for a set group of firms. Both salary adjustments on the part of some large firms in recent years and fluctuations in the distribution of respondents play a role in determining changes in median salaries within the report.

You may be wondering about the impact of all of the $190,000 first-year salaries that were announced over the course of several months in 2018. We found a similar pattern as in 2017, when law firms had begun announcing $180,000 first-year salaries — there were still not nearly enough offices reporting a $190,000 salary to push the median up to that level, even in the largest firms. However, $190,000 was the modal, or most frequently occurring, first-year base salary reported, accounting for 29.3% of all reported first-year base salaries. See Chart 2 for more detailed information on the frequency of $190,000 salaries by firm size. While some of these findings can be counterintuitive, the data suggest that as more law firms have grown through acquisition and merger, the largest law firms are not as similar to one another as they used to be. In addition to elite global law firms, there are many firms with more than 700 lawyers that are made up of numerous smaller regional offices, many of which do not pay the new benchmark first-year salary of $190,000, and, as a result, the majority of large law firm starting salaries fall below that mark.

As Table 1 shows, just over 29% of responding offices reported $190,000 as the average first-year base salary. Even in firms of 701+ lawyers, the majority of responding offices did not report $190,000 salaries. This is comparable to 2017, when just over 27% of all firms reported $180,000 first-year base salaries. It is also not necessarily surprising that offices paying $190,000 are concentrated mostly within a few cities. As Table 2 shows, over half of the offices reporting $190,000 come from just four reporting areas: Dallas, the Los Angeles/Orange County area, New York City, and the Washington, DC area. However, we are seeing a greater share of $190,000 salaries coming from the two largest Texas markets — Dallas and Houston. In 2019, 17.7% of all reported $190,000 salaries came from Dallas or Houston offices, compared to just 9.8% of reported $180,000 salaries in the 2017 survey.

When further exploring salary data by geographic market, the majority of offices responding from five cities or areas now have a $190,000 starting salary. As Table 3 shows, these cities or markets include Dallas, Houston, New York City, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley. Conversely, in many areas, such as Denver, Hartford, South Florida, Portland (OR), Raleigh/Durham, Seattle, St. Louis, and Tampa, no offices reported a $190,000 first-year salary. Regionally, the highest median first-year base salaries reported were in the Northeast and South ($165,000), followed by the West ($160,000), with the lowest in the Midwest ($120,000).

The full 2019 Associate Salary Survey is now available in NALP's bookstore.


Chart 1

Year Firm Size — Number of Lawyers
50 or Fewer 51-100 101-250 251-500 501-700 701+ Overall
2015 $121,500 $111,250 $115,000 $145,000 $125,000 $145,000 $135,000
2017 90,000 115,000 113,500 150,000 160,000 155,000 135,000
2019 98,750 115,000 115,000 160,000 160,000 180,000 155,000



Chart 2


Table 1. Distribution of First-Year Base Salaries (in $/year) Reported by Firm Size

Average First-Year Base Salary Overall % of Salaries Reported at Each Amount by Firm Size (# of Lawyers)
100 or Fewer 101-250 251-500 501-700 701+
Less than $100,000 7.8% 35.9% 19.2% 0.0% 0.0% 0.7%
$100,000 6.0 5.1 21.8 0.0 1.9 2.0
$110,000 4.4 12.8 3.8 1.5 1.9 4.7
$120,000 4.4 2.6 6.4 8.8 1.9 2.7
$125,000 3.1 0.0 3.8 5.9 5.7 1.4
$130,000 4.1 7.7 5.1 1.5 5.7 3.4
$140,000 3.1 0.0 2.6 5.9 9.4 0.7
$145,000 3.1 5.1 0.0 2.9 1.9 4.7
$150,000 3.1 0.0 3.8 4.4 0.0 4.1
$160,000 6.0 2.6 5.1 7.4 15.1 3.4
$165,000 3.9 5.1 0.0 1.5 7.5 5.4
$180,000 5.7 0.0 0.0 5.9 9.4 8.8
$190,000 29.3 2.6 6.4 38.2 28.3 44.6

Note: The salaries reported in this table are those that accounted for 3% or more of reported base salaries. The overall column reports the percentage of all first-year base salaries that were reported at each salary level. Salaries are then further reported by the percentage of first-year base salaries at each salary level within each firm size grouping.


Table 2. Distribution of Reported $190,000 Salaries

City % of $190,000 First-Year Salaries Accounted for
by This City
New York City 16.8%
Washington, DC Area 16.8
Dallas 10.6
Los Angeles/Orange County 9.7
Houston 7.1
San Francisco 7.1
Silicon Valley 6.2
Chicago 5.3
Austin 2.7
Boston 2.7
Charlotte 2.7
Baltimore Area 1.8
Philadelphia 1.8
San Diego 1.8
Wilmington, DE 1.8
TOTAL 94.7%

Note: A total of 113 offices reported $190,000 as the first-year average salary. In addition to the cities listed, six additional cities each had one office reporting a $190,000 first-year salary, collectively accounting for about 5% of the reported $190,000 salaries.


Table 3. Percentage of Offices Reporting $190,000 as Their First-Year Salary in Selected Cities

City % of Offices Reporting
First-Year Salary of $190,000
# of Offices Reporting
a First-Year Salary
Dallas 63.2% 19
Houston 61.5 13
New York City 57.6 33
Silicon Valley 53.8 13
San Francisco 53.3 15
Washington, DC Area 41.3 46
Baltimore Area 33.3 6
Boston 33.3 9
Chicago 33.3 18
Los Angeles/Orange County 29.7 37
San Diego 28.6 7
Philadelphia 25.0 8
Charlotte 23.1 13
Wilmington, DE 22.2 9
Atlanta 10.0 10
Minneapolis 6.3 16
Denver 0.0 13
Hartford Area 0.0 6
Miami/W. Palm Beach Area 0.0 16
Portland, OR 0.0 10
Raleigh/Durham Area 0.0 10
Seattle 0.0 13
St. Louis 0.0 13
Tampa 0.0 8

Note: The cities in this table each reported at least six first-year average salaries.

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