According to the 2007 Associate Salary Survey just released by NALP, the median, and in fact prevailing, first-year associate salary at firms of 501+ lawyers rose to $145,000 as of April 1, 2007, an increase of $10,000 in just one year. This increase, on the heels of a similar increase between 2005 and 2006, contrasts with a period of relative stability from 2000 to 2005. And, even as the median stood at $145,000, salaries as high as $160,000 were already being reported by many firms. At small firms of 25 or fewer lawyers, the median was essentially unchanged at $68,000, compared with $67,000 in 2006. The median starting salary for firms of all sizes was $113,000 — up modestly from the 2006 median of $105,000, and driven mostly by growth at the high end of the scale.
The prevailing salary in the largest firms rose to $145,000 in a number of cities: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay and Silicon Valley areas, and Washington, DC. In New York, the prevailing salary was even higher, $160,000.
A total of 679 offices provided salary information as of April 1, 2007. With one-quarter of respondents representing firms of 50 or fewer lawyers and 32% representing firms of more than 500 lawyers, the survey report sheds valuable light on the breadth of salary differentials among employers of varying sizes.
As expected, each year of associate experience brings several thousand dollars in increased compensation: median salaries for eighth-year associates ranged from $117,000 in small firms to $204,000 in the largest firms, with a median for all reporting firms of $157,000.
The volume of data in this year's survey allowed analyses for 37 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 more than 250 lawyers was highest in the Northeast, at $145,000, followed by $135,000 in the South and $132,500 and $103,500 in the West and Midwest, respectively. The highest first-year salary reported was $160,000. Salaries of $145,000 were not typical everywhere — medians in areas such as Cincinnati, Hartford, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Portland, OR, Sacramento, St. Louis, and Tampa ranged from $90,000 to $97,500. Contrasts between large cities and smaller metropolitan areas within the same state are also evident. For example, in firms reporting from areas in California outside Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Sacramento, and the San Francisco Bay area, the first-year median was $80,000. In Virginia outside of Northern Virginia, the median was $83,000.
The 2007 Associate Salary Survey also gathered data on salaries for intellectual property lawyers as well as general data on salary levels for staff attorneys and law clerks. Though data on salaries for intellectual property attorneys was more limited, it suggests that, at least in large firms in major markets, IP lawyers command a salary that is $15,000 to $25,000 higher, with the larger differentials among more senior associates.
Additional findings show that salaries for staff attorneys are typically $98,000 per year, while the median hourly salaries for law clerks range from $24 to $50 per hour depending on firm size.
The survey also reports on bonus systems at participating firms and the prevalence and size of bonuses for prior judicial clerks. Among the findings on bonus systems: about 70% of firms use discretion as a factor to determine eligibility for bonuses. About 60% use "meeting fixed goals" as a determinant of eligibility, although firms of 101-250 lawyers and 251-500 lawyers are most likely to do so — 67% and 77%, respectively. Bonus amounts were based on various factors, the most common of which were billable hours (75% of offices offering associate bonuses), merit (78%), and discretion (63%). Nearly all of the largest firms of 701 or more lawyers reported paying a bonus to prior judicial clerks. Relatively few smaller firms did so. Bonuses of $10,000 to $15,000 were most typical.
More detailed results by city and region, including medians, averages, and ranges of base salaries for associates through the eighth year, as well as information on aggregate compensation for associates, and compensation structures, are found in the complete 2007 Associate Salary Survey, now available from NALP's Bookstore.
Median Base Salaries by Associate Year and Firm Size (as of April 1, 2007)
The "# Rept." columns indicate the number of offices reporting. Medians have been rounded to the nearest $25.
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