Salary Distribution Curves

For a number of years NALP has prepared a graphic to illustrate the bi-modal nature of the distribution of salaries obtained by law school graduates. Over the years the graphic has illustrated that about half of salaries fall into the $40,000–$70,000 range, and that the large firm salary typical at the time the class graduated create a sharper peak to the right.

Also, since 2009, an "adjusted" mean has been calculated in addition to the mean calculated based on reported salaries. Essentially, the adjusted mean compensates for the fact that the distribution of reported full-time salaries is not the same as the distribution of reported full-time jobs, particularly when it comes to law firm jobs. Whereas salaries for most jobs in large law firms are reported, only about half the salaries for jobs in small law firms are reported, meaning that their contribution to the mean is understated whereas the contribution of large firm salaries is overstated. The adjustment is accomplished by giving more “weight” to the mean or average salary in small firms and less “weight” to the mean or average salary in large firms to calculate the adjusted mean.



Class of 2018

Distribution of Reported Full-Time Salaries — Class of 2018


Note: Graph is based on 19,615 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more -- a few salaries above $210,000 are excluded from the graph for clarity, but not from the percentage calculations. The left-hand peaks of the graph reflect salaries salaries of $45,000 to $75,000, which collectively accounted for about half (49.6%) of reported salaries. The two right-hand peak show that salaries of $180,000 accounted for 7.7% of reported salaries and that salaries of $190,000 accounted for 13.8% of reported salaries. However, more complete salary coverage for jobs at large firms heightens these right-hand peaks and diminishes the left-hand peaks, and as a result the unadjusted mean overstates the average starting salary by an estimated 6.9%. Nonetheless, as both the unadjusted arithmetic mean and the adjusted mean show, relatively few salaries are close to either mean. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000. However, the mean is based on salaries as reported and the adjusted mean reflects a weighting of those salaries.


Class of 2017

Distribution of Reported Full-Time Salaries — Class of 2017

Distribution of Reported Full-time Salaries, Class of 2017 ©2018, NALP

Note: Graph is based on 19,719 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more — a few salaries above $205,000 are excluded from the graph for clarity, but not from the percentage calculations. The left-hand peaks of the graph reflect salaries salaries of $40,000 to $70,000, which collectively accounted for just over half of reported salaries. The right-hand peak shows that salaries of $180,000 accounted for 21% of reported salaries. However, more complete salary coverage for jobs at large firms heightens this peak and diminishes the left-hand peaks, and as a result the unadjusted mean overstates the average starting salary by an estimated 6.8%. Nonetheless, as both the unadjusted arithmetic mean and the adjusted mean show, relatively few salaries are close to either mean. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000. However, the mean is based on salaries as reported and the adjusted mean reflects a weighting of those salaries.

Class of 2016

Distribution of Reported Full-Time Salaries — Class of 2016


Note: Graph is based on 20,226 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more — a few salaries above $205,000 are excluded from the graph for clarity, but not from the percentage calculations. The left-hand peaks of the graph reflect salaries of $40,000 to $65,000, which collectively accounted for not quite half of reported salaries. The right-hand peak shows that salaries of $180,000 accounted for almost 16% of reported salaries. However, more complete salary coverage for jobs at large firms heightens this peak and diminishes the left-hand peaks, and as a result the unadjusted mean overstates the average starting salary by an estimated 8%. Nonetheless, as both the unadjusted arithmetic mean and the adjusted mean show, relatively few salaries are close to either mean. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000. However, the mean is based on salaries as reported and the adjusted mean reflects a weighting of those salaries.


Class of 2015

Distribution of Reported Full-Time Salaries — Class of 2015


Note: Graph is based on 21,119 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more — a few salaries above $205,000 are excluded from the graph for clarity, but not from the percentage calculations. The left-hand peaks of the graph reflect salaries salaries of $40,000 to $65,000, which collectively accounted for about half of reported salaries. The right-hand peak shows that salaries of $160,000 accounted for about 17% of reported salaries. However, more complete salary coverage for jobs at large firms heightens this peak and diminishes the left-hand peaks, and as a result the unadjusted mean overstates the average starting salary by an estimated 6%. Nonetheless, as both the unadjusted arithmetic mean and the adjusted mean show, relatively few salaries are close to either mean. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000. However, the mean is based on salaries as reported and the adjusted mean reflects a weighting of those salaries.


Class of 2014

Distribution of Reported Full-Time Salaries — Class of 2014


Note: Graph is based on 22,095 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more. A few salaries above $205,000 are excluded from the graph for clarity, but not from the percentage calculations. The left-hand peaks of the graph reflect salaries of $40,000 to $65,000, which collectively accounted for about half of reported salaries. The right-hand peak shows that salaries of $160,000 accounted for about 17% of reported salaries. However, more complete salary coverage for jobs at large law firms heightens this peak and diminishes the left-hand peaks — and shows that the unadjusted mean overstates the average starting salary by just over 6%. Nonetheless, as both the arithmetic mean and the adjusted mean show, relatively few salaries are close to either mean. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000.


Class of 2013

Distribution of Reported Full-Time Salaries — Class of 2013


Note: Graph is based on 21,545 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more. A few salaries above $205,000 are excluded from the graph for clarity, but not from the percentage calculations. The left-hand peaks of the graph reflect salaries of $40,000 to $65,000, which collectively accounted for about half of reported salaries. The right-hand peak shows that salaries of $160,000 accounted for about 17% of reported salaries. However, more complete salary coverage for jobs at large law firms heightens this peak and diminishes the left-hand peaks — and shows that the unadjusted mean overstates the average starting salary by just over 5%. Nonetheless, as both the arithmetic mean and the adjusted mean show, relatively few salaries are close to either mean. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000.


Class of 2012

Distribution of Reported Full-Time Salaries — Class of 2012


Note: Graph is based on 20,709 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more. A few salaries above $205,000 are excluded from the graph for clarity, but not from the percentage calculations. The left-hand peaks of the graph reflect salaries of $40,000 to $65,000, which collectively accounted for about 51% of reported salaries. The right-hand peak shows that salaries of $160,000 accounted for about 16% of reported salaries. However, more complete salary coverage for jobs at large law firms heightens this peak and diminishes the left-hand peaks — and shows that the unadjusted mean overstates the average starting salary by about 7%. Nonetheless, as both the arithmetic mean and the adjusted mean show, relatively few salaries are close to either mean. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000.


Class of 2011

Distribution of Reported Full-Time Salaries — Class of 2011




Note: The graph above is based on 18,630 salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more — a few salaries above $200,000 are excluded from the graph for clarity, but not from the percentage calculations. The left-hand peaks of the graph reflect salaries of $40,000 to $65,000, which collectively accounted for about 52% of reported salaries. The right-hand peak shows that salaries of $160,000 accounted for about 14% of reported salaries. However, more complete salary coverage for jobs at large law firms heightens this peak and diminishes the left-hand peaks — and shows that the unadjusted mean overstates the average starting salary by just over 6%. Nonetheless, as both the arithmetic mean and the adjusted mean show, relatively few salaries are close to either mean. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000.


Class of 2010

Distribution of Reported Full-Time Salaries


Note: The graph above is based on 18,398 salaries. A few salaries above $200,000 are excluded for clarity. The left-hand peaks of the graph reflect salaries of $40,000 to $65,000, which collectively accounted for about 48% of reported salaries. The right-hand peak shows that salaries of $160,000 accounted for about 18% of reported salaries. However, more complete salary coverage for jobs at large law firms heightens this peak and diminishes the left-hand peaks — and shows that the unadjusted mean overstates the average starting salary by about 9%. Nonetheless, as both the arithmetic mean and the adjusted mean show, relatively few salaries are close to either mean figure. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000.


Class of 2009

Distribution of Reported Full-Time Salaries — Class of 2009


Note: The graph is based on 19,513 salaries. A few salaries above $200,000 are excluded for clarity. The left-hand peaks of the graph reflect salaries of $40,000 to $65,000, which collectively accounted for 42% of reported salaries.The right-hand peak shows that salaries of $160,000 accounted for 25% of reported salaries. However, more complete salary coverage for jobs at large law firms heightens this peak and diminishes the left-hand peaks — and shows that the unadjusted mean overstates the average starting salary by about 10%. Nonetheless, as both the arithmetic mean and the adjusted mean show, relatively few salaries are close to either mean figure. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000.


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