Starting Salary Distribution for Class of 2008 More Dramatic than Previous Years

June 2009

The salary distribution for the Class of 2008 presents the most dramatic bimodal distribution yet of starting salaries for recent graduates from law school. The sharp spike on the right reflects the fact that in 2008 the prevailing starting salary at large law firms was nearly uniformly $160,000. By contrast, the starting salary distribution for the class of 2007, while reflecting a spike at $160,000, also had an elbow that extended out over $145,000. (Click here to see the salary distributions for the Class of 2007 and the class of 2006.) Prior to 2000, starting salaries for new law school graduates were distributed along a more recognizable bell-shaped curve. (Click here for an article that traces the development of the bimodal distribution of starting salaries for American law school graduates.) Since that time, the peak on the right has marched steadily to the right while the peak on the left has remained more or less stationary. The new reality is that very few law school graduates actually make either the median or mean starting salaries, and so it is neither helpful nor accurate to describe starting lawyer salaries using those modalities. (For the Class of 2008, the median starting salary, the red line on this graph, was about $72,000 and the mean starting salary was about $92,000.) It is important for anyone considering a legal education to understand that half of all starting lawyer salaries are less than $72,000 and in fact 42% of them are between only $40,000 and $65,000. By contrast, 23% of all salaries reported were $160,000.  Of course, based on recent developments in the marketplace, for the classes of 2009 and beyond the sharp spike over $160,000 is likely to soften and fall back to the left, and we may even see some flattening of this distribution curve over time.

Distribution of Full-Time Salaries — Class of 2008

Note: Graph is based on 22,305 salaries; a few salaries about $200,000 are excluded for clarity. Collectively, salaries of $40,000 - $65,000 accounted for 42% of reported salaries.

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