Entry-Level Associate Salaries Rise Sharply
08-28-2000

The National Association for Law Placement has completed its sixth comprehensive survey of associate compensation with the 2000 Associate Salary Survey report. Over 450 offices (30% with 50 or fewer attorneys and a similar percentage — 35% — with more than 250 attorneys) provided salary information as of April 1, 2000. For the first time, this annual survey includes data on salaries for staff attorneys and law clerks in addition to associates from summer programs through the eighth year.

Reflecting compensation as of April 1, 2000, NALP's salary survey is among the few comprehensive resources reflecting the incremental salary increases that were implemented during the first months of 2000 by many firms in response to the January boost by Silicon Valley firms. The data provided a balanced perspective on compensation of associates and documents the final outcome of the "salary wars of 2000" across all firm sizes.

The median salary for first-year associates ranged from $60,000 in firms of 2-25 attorneys to $110,000 in firms of 500 attorneys or more, with a first-year median for all participating firms of $85,000. A comparison with figures reported 12 months earlier, as of April 1999, shows a dramatic increase in first-year salaries, especially in larger firms. In firms of 251 or more attorneys, the median increased by 30% or more than $25,000.

As expected, each year of associate experience brings several thousand dollars in increased compensation: median salaries for eighth-year associates ranged from $81,000 in small firms to $165,000 in the largest firms, with a median for all participating firms of $120,000.

The volume of data allowed analyses for 23 individual cities as well as many additional states and regions not encompassed by those cities. These analyses reveal a wide range of law firm compensation. For example, the median salary for first-year associates in all firms of over 251 attorneys in the Northeast was $125,000, with reported salaries ranging from $84,000 to $128,800. For firms of 251 or more in the Midwest, the median first-year salary was $95,000, with reported salaries ranging from $65,000 to $125,000. In comparison, while a first-year associate in a large firm in Washington, D.C. or San Francisco might earn in excess of $110,000, the median salary for a first-year associate in St. Louis was $71,000. Contrasts between large cities and smaller metropolitan areas are also evident. The median salary for a fourth-year associate in Los Angeles was $155,000; for firms reporting from other areas of California, the median was $101,000.

More limited data on salaries for intellectual property attorneys suggest that IP attorneys command a premium of about $15,000. This year's survey also included information on salaries for staff attorneys and law clerks. Although many survey participants did not have such positions in their firm, for those that do, staff attorney salaries are typically $75,000 per year while law clerks average $30 per hour.

The survey also reports the aggregate compensation and bonus systems at participating firms and the prevalence and size of bonuses for prior judicial clerks. Aggregate compensation includes bonuses in addition to base pay. For first-year associates aggregate compensation ranged from $42,000 to $139,625 nationwide. Among the findings regarding bonus systems: 55% of firms use a discretionary basis as one means of determining eligibility for bonuses. Two-thirds of firms of 2-25 and 51-100 do so, compared with about half of other sizes. Many firms (59%) use "meeting fixed goals" as a determinate of eligibility — 24% of small firms consider this factor, while over three-quarters of the largest firms do so. Bonus amounts were based on various factors, the most common of which were merit/performance (66% of offices offering associates bonuses), billable hours (60%), and discretion (44%). About one-third of the firms reported paying a bonus to prior judicial clerks, with large firms most likely to offer bonuses. Bonuses of $5,000-$10,000 were most typical.

Median Base Salaries by Associate Year and Firm Size (as of April 1, 2000)

Associate Year FIRM SIZE - Number of Attorneys
2-25 26-50 51-100 101-250 251-500 501 or more All Sizes
First $60,000 $63,000 $70,000 $75,000 $100,000 $110,500 $85,000
Second 67,500 67,500 73,500 80,500 110,000 120,000 90,750
Third 57,500 72,750 78,000 84,375 113,000 128,800 96,000
Fourth 70,000 75,000 80,000 90,000 115,500 140,000 100,250
Fifth 85,000 83,500 83,250 97,000 126,500 150,000 107,000
Sixth 80,000 88,500 89,150 98,000 130,000 162,500 114,000
Seventh 86,250 85,000 90,000 107,000 137,000 170,000 120,000
Eighth 81,000 76,500 94,475 102,000 135,000 165,000 120,000
Summer (weekly):
First-year summer -- 1,000 1,300 1,250 1,625 2,000 1,423
Second-year summer 1,025 1,100 1,346 1,300 1,700 2,000 1,500
Third-year summer -- 1,050 1,346 1,350 1,570 2,000 1,500

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