NALP has completed its eighth annual comprehensive survey of associate compensation with the 2002 Associate Salary Survey report. Over 640 offices representing large and small firms alike (about 30% of responses were from firms of 50 or fewer attorneys, and one quarter were from firms of more than 500 attorneys) provided salary information as of April 1, 2002.
The median salary for first-year associates ranged from $53,500 in firms of 2-25 attorneys to $118,000 in firms of 500 attorneys or more, with a first-year median for all participating firms of $90,000. A comparison with figures reported as of April 2001 and April 2000 reveals that first-year salaries have remained stable in firms of 251 or more attorneys, with a median of about $110,000. This is in sharp contrast to a 30% increase in the median during this time period, from April 1999 to April 2000. In some major cities, such as Los Angeles, New York City, and the Silicon Valley area, the prevailing salary of $125,000 for first-year associates remained unchanged from April 2000.
As expected, each year of associate experience brings several thousand dollars in increased compensation: median salaries for eighth-year associates ranged from $92,500 in small firms to $180,000 in the largest firms, with a median for all participating firms of $127,500.
The volume of data allowed analyses for 33 individual cites 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 was highest in the West, at $125,000, followed by $120,000 in the Northeast and $105,000 and $95,000 in the South and Midwest respectively. The typical high salary reported was $135,000. The typical salary for first-year associates in large firms stood at $125,000 in a number of cities, not just New York, but also Chicago, Los Angeles, Orange County, CA, San Diego, San Francisco, the San Jose area, and Washington, D.C. In contrast, medians in Detroit, Hartford, and the West Palm Beach/Ft. Lauderdale area were in the $80,000-82,000 range. Contrasts between large cities and smaller metropolitan areas are also evident. For example, for firms reporting from areas of California (outside the Los Angeles, Orange County, CA, San Diego, San Francisco, the San Jose areas), the first-year median was $66,500.
More limited data on salaries for intellectual property attorneys suggest that IP attorneys command a premium of about $25,000 at the more junior level. Salaries for staff attorneys are typically $85,000 per year, while law clerks average $30 per hour.
The survey also reports on bonus systems at participating firms and the prevalence and size of bonuses for prior judicial clerks. Among the findings regarding bonus systems: about 71% of firms use a discretionary basis as one means of determining eligibility for bonuses. Many firms (63%) use "meeting fixed goals" as a determinant of eligibility — 42% of small firms consider this factor, while over 80% of the largest firms do so. Bonus amounts were based on various factors, the most common of which were merit/performance (71% of offices offering associate bonuses), billable hours (69%), and discretion (47%). Just over one fourth of the firms reported paying a bonus to prior judicial clerks, with large firms most likely to offer bonuses. Bonuses of $5,000-15,000 were most typical.
Median Base Salaires by Associate Year and Firm Size (as of April 1, 2002)
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