NALP's Salary Curve Disaggregated

NALP Bulletin, August 2016

The bimodal distribution of salaries for jobs taken by new law school graduates shows quite clearly that the highest salaries are not the norm. At the time the Class of 2014 graduated, the typical high end of law firm salaries was $160,000, yet this salary accounts for less than one-fifth of salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting at least a year taken by the Class of 2014, while salaries in the $40,000-$65,000 range account for about half the salaries. Nonetheless, $160,000 remains the single most frequently reported salary.

The bimodal nature of the curve has been traced back to 2000, when many large firms upped their starting salary to $125,000. But the national curve does not mean that a similar curve is in place when looking at distributions at the state level. In fact, the height of the right-hand peak in New York State is almost three times that of the national figure, while in Florida there is no right-hand peak, and the shape of the curve resembles a more classic bell curve, albeit a lop-sided one, and about 70% of salaries are in the $40,000-$65,000 range. The chart accompanying this article shows the salary distribution for the five states and Washington, DC that provided the most jobs to the Class of 2014.

Of course, the curves reflect the employment profiles of those areas and the size of the law firms where graduates take jobs. Private practice accounts for over half of the jobs taken in the five states, but not in Washington, DC. However, what Washington, DC lacks in the proportion of law firm jobs, it makes up for by having the most firm jobs in large firms, pushing the percentage of jobs at the $160,000 level to 38% of full-time long-term jobs for which a salary was reported. In contrast, Florida offers many law firm jobs, but less than 10% are in the largest firms, nor are the large firms there paying top-dollar salaries.

The national bimodal curve seems to be rather firmly set in place even if the exact locations of the highest peak change. (Recent reports suggest, for example, that when data for the Class of 2016 is compiled, the peak is likely to move to $180,000.) At the same time, the general contrasts at the subnational level are likely to remain as well, reflecting underlying and long-standing contrasts in employment patterns.


Salary Distribution in Selected Markets

  % of Salaries from
$40,000 - $65,000
% of Salaries at
$160,000
Nationwide 50.5% 16.5%
California 33.3 26.4
Florida 69.3 0.5
Illinois 49.0 21.4
New York State 29.7 47.0
Texas 40.8 21.8
Washington, DC 35.6 38.3

Percentages are based on salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting at least a year.


Distribution of Reported Full-time Salaries Taken by the Class of 2014 in California, Florida, Illinois, New York State, Texas, and Washington, DC


For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000. A few salaries above $180,000 and less than $20,000 are excluded from the graph for clarity, but not from the percentage calculations.
California: Graph is based on 2,617 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more.
Florida: Graph is based on 1,265 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more.
Illinois: Graph is based on 1,213 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more.
New York State: Graph is based on 3,474 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more.
Texas: Graph is based on 1,324 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more.
Washington, DC: Graph is based on 1,277 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more.




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Distribution of Reported Full-time Salaries Taken by the Class of 2014 in California


Graph is based on 2,617 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000. A few salaries above $180,000 and less than $20,000 are excluded from the graph for clarity, but not from the percentage calculations.

Distribution of Reported Full-time Salaries Taken by the Class of 2014 in Florida


Graph is based on 1,265 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting year or more. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000. A few salaries above $180,000 and less than $20,000 are excluded from the graph for clarity, but not from the percentage calculations.

Distribution of Reported Full-time Salaries Taken by the Class of 2014 in Illinois


Graph is based on 1,213 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000. A few salaries above $180,000 and less than $20,000 are excluded from the graph for clarity, but not from the percentage calculations.

Distribution of Reported Full-time Salaries Taken by the Class of 2014 in New York State


Graph is based on 3,474 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000. A few salaries above $180,000 and less than $20,000 are excluded from the graph for clarity, but not from the percentage calculations.

Distribution of Reported Full-time Salaries Taken by the Class of 2014 in Texas


Graph is based on 1,324 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000. A few salaries above $180,000 and less than $20,000 are excluded from the graph for clarity, but not from the percentage calculations.

Distribution of Reported Full-time Salaries Taken by the Class of 2014 in Washington, DC


Graph is based on 1,277 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000. A few salaries above $180,000 and less than $20,000 are excluded from the graph for clarity, but not from the percentage calculations.

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