Findings from NALP's Associate Salary Survey — A Historical Perspective 1996-2001

NALP Bulletin, September 2001 

Changes in how law firms determine associates' eligibility for bonuses and, of course, in starting salaries are evident based on NALP's Associate Salary Survey reports from 1996 through 2001. As Table 1 shows, firms are more likely now than they were in 1996 to use "meeting goals or targets" as one means of determining eligibility for bonuses. Larger firms remain more likely to use this criterion than smaller firms. Eligibility based on discretion or merit has also shown an increase among larger firms.

The magnitude of salary increases over the past five years is evident from Tables 2 and 3, with an increase of nearly 60% in the largest firms. Notable, however, is the essentially flat median among the largest firms overall in 2000 and 2001, and in New York and Los Angeles specifically. Also, for the first time New York no longer claims the highest median starting salary.

Table 1. Associate Bonus Eligibility — 1996-2001
(percent of offices)

 


Number of Attorneys

Based on meeting
goals or targets

2-10

11-25

26-50

51-100

101-250

251 or more

251-500

501 or more

1996

17.5

20.2

36.7

30.6

36.5

52.6

NA

NA

1997

10.7

21.6

32.3

33.7

29.4

49.4

NA

NA

1998

30.3

38.3

34.2

39.6

48.5

53.7

NA

NA

1999

— 32.9* —

32.7

41.7

53.2

57.9

NA

NA

2000

— 24.1* —

46.4

45.9

59.5

NA

76.3

77.6

2001

— 39.7* —

55.4

58.8

56.5

NA

70.7

84.2

Based on discretion

2-10

11-25

26-50

51-100

101-250

251 or more

251-500

501 or more

1996

72.5

72.3

43.3

59.7

61.5

42.3

NA

NA

1997

75.0

64.7

63.1

55.8

54.6

55.6

NA

NA

1998

66.7

55.0

53.0

53.2

48.5

45.8

NA

NA

1999

— 68.4* —

57.3

60.2

56.7

47.7

NA

NA

2000

— 65.5* —

46.4

70.3

54.3

NA

43.4

55.3

2001

— 69.2* —

58.7

80.4

61.1

NA

78.0

73.4

*Figures are for the 2-25 size category.
Note: Firms could report using both bases to determine eligibility.
Source: NALP's Associate Salary Surveys 1996-97 to 2001.

 

Table 2. Median Starting Salaries for First-Year Associates by Firm Size

 


Firm Size — Number of Attorneys

2-10

11-25

26-50

51-100

101-250

251 or more

1996*

$35,000

$41,500

$52,000

$58,500

$60,000

$70,000

1997*

40,000

52,000

50,000

60,000

65,000

71,502

1998*

39,500

52,000

53,000

61,000

60,000

75,000

1999

51,000**

57,500

67,000

70,000

85,000

2000

60,000**

63,000

70,000

75,000

110,500

2001

60,000**

70,500

75,900

90,000

110,174

% Change
1996-2001

NC

35.6%

29.7%

50.0%

57.4%

*Figures for 1996 are as of July 1; figures for 1997 are as of August 1; figures for 1998 are as of January 1; figures for all other years are as of April 1.
**Figures are for the 2-25 firm size range.
Note: Medians for each size range are calculated based on firms in that size range responding to the survey for the year specified. Some medians appear to decline; this is a result of a different pool of respondents in each year rather than a decrease in salaries on the part of any one firm.

 

Table 3. Median Starting Salaries for First-Year Associates in Firms of 251 or More — Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, DC

 


Chicago

Los Angeles

New York

Washington, DC

1996*

NA

$75,000

$85,000

$72,500

1997*

73,000

80,002

87,000

74,000

1998*

80,000

82,500

87,500

80,000

1999

90,000

92,004

96,000

91,000

2000

117,500

125,000

125,000

114,050

2001

125,000

125,000

125,000

125,000

% Change
1996-2001

NC

66.7%

47.1%

72.4%

*Figures for 1996 are as of July 1; figures for 1997 are as of August 1; figures for 1998 are as of January 1; figures for all other years are as of April 1.
Note: Although the figures shows are technically medians (the middle value in a series of salaries ranked from law to high), for these specific cities and this firm size the figures shown are more usefully thought of as simply the prevailing salary in that city at that time. For example, half the firms in New York were not paying more than $125,000 in 2001, rather most firms were paying $125,000.
Source: NALP's Associate Salary Surveys, 1996-97 to 2001.

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