Starting Salaries - Class of 2012

Want to learn more about the entry-level job market for recent law school graduates? See NALP's annual Jobs & JDs report.

September 2013

This information is being made available for prospective law school applicants and others interested in the starting salaries of new law school graduates. For complete salary information for the Class of 2012, see links to additional important documents below.

What do new law school graduates earn?

Starting salaries for new lawyers vary tremendously. The median salary for Class of 2012 graduates with a full-time job lasting at least a year and reporting a salary was $61,245; the mean, or average salary was about $80,800. For jobs in private practice, the overall median salary was considerably higher, $90,000, and the average was almost $100,800. However, in small firms, which account for over half of the jobs taken in law firms, salaries of $50,000-70,000 were typical. Likewise, public service jobs — those in government, public interest organizations, and as judicial clerks — continued to offer relatively low starting salaries, with medians of $52,000, $44,621, and $52,600, respectively.

Most jobs paid neither the median amount of $61,245 nor $160,000. Although salaries of more than $75,000 accounted for almost 36% of salaries reported, they were outnumbered by salaries of $55,000 or less which accounted for 39.5% of salaries reported. Outside of private practice, most salaries were $75,000 or less. The prevalence of high salaries in large firms, in concert with the relatively stable salaries among other employers, continues to result in a salary distribution with two peaks, as shown in The NALP Salary Curve for the Class of 2012: one at $160,000 and one in the $40,000 to $65,000 range.

Moreover, because salaries were reported for about 65% of graduates reported as working full-time in a job lasting at least a year, and were disproportionately reported for those graduates working at large firms, both the median and mean salary for jobs as a whole, and in firms specifically, are biased upward. Although it is not possible to impute a salary figure to every full-time job for which a salary was not reported, it is possible to make a reasonable estimate of what an adjusted mean would be, using a procedure that takes into account the distribution of full-time jobs. For the Class of 2012, doing so results in an adjusted mean salary for full-time jobs of about $75,500 compared with almost 81,000 based on reported salaries alone. It is further possible to estimate that salaries of $160,000 account for perhaps 12% of salaries, instead of 16%, which is based on reported salaries. However, whether considering the adjusted mean, the unadjusted mean, or the median, it remains the case that few jobs pay the mean or median salary.

The NALP Salary Curve for the Class of 2012 — Distribution of Reported Full-Time Salaries

Full-Time Salaries for Jobs Lasting at Least One Year, by Employer or Job Type — Class of 2012

Employer Types with Average Salary for Class of 2012 (pie charts)

Reported Salaries by State for Full-Time Jobs Taken by the Class of 2012

Reported Salaries by State for Full-Time Jobs in Private Practice Taken by the Class of 2012 (broken down by firm size)

Reported Salaries by State for Full-Time Jobs in Business, Government, Public Interest, and Judicial Clerkship Positions Taken by the Class of 2012

Median Reported Salaries by Employer Type in the 20 Cities Providing the Most Jobs to the Class of 2012

Reported Salaries by City and Firm Size for Full-Time Jobs Taken by the Class of 2012

Reported Salaries by City for Law Firm Jobs

Median Reported Salaries — Class of 2012 (maps)

Trends in Median Reported Salaries — Class of 2012

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