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Salaries increasing for 1st-year, large firm associates

May 24, 2019

First-year associates at larger firms are seeing heftier paychecks, according to a national study. But the Midwest is seeing the shorter end of that stick compared to other regions. 

In its 2019 Associate Salary Survey report released Wednesday, the National Association for Law Placement found that as of Jan. 1, the overall median first-year associate salary was up nearly 15 percent. That’s $155,000, up $20,000 from the most recent survey in 2017.

“There has been abundant news coverage of the salary hike to $190,000 for first-year salaries at many of the largest law firms, and we see that reflected in the data collected in this year’s salary survey,” NALP executive director James Leipold said in a news release . “As with other associate base pay hikes in the past, while the press focus is usually on how quickly law firms race to meet a market change like this one, the data reveal that there are in fact many large law firm offices that are still not paying $190,000 as a base first-year salary.

“These hikes often take two or more years to move through the market,” Leipold continued. “They also have the effect of driving up starting salaries in markets that have a lower base, and we see that movement in this year’s data as well.”

Results from the survey concluded the greatest salary growth was seen in firm of at least 701 lawyers. Those median first-year base salaries increased by roughly 16 percent, bumping up from $155,000 in 2017 to $180,000 in 2019.

Regionally, the highest median first-year base salaries reported were in the Northeast and South at $165,000, followed by the West with $160,000. The lowest, $120,000, was found in the Midwest.

Many firms with more than 700 lawyers made up of numerous smaller regional offices do not pay the new benchmark first-year salary of $190,000, the study noted, and as a result, the majority of large law firm starting salaries fall below that mark.

Modest growth was seen in firm sizes ranging between 251-500 attorneys, with those first-year base salaries increasing 6.7 percent to $160,000 in 2019. Firms maintaining 51-100 lawyers, 101-250 lawyers and 501-700 lawyers saw little to no change at $115,000, $115,000 and $160,000, respectively.

Law firms consisting of more than 250 lawyers made up 70 percent of respondents, compiled from 24 major markets across the United States.

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