Survey finds associates’ salaries growing again

First-year associates’ median base salary has reached $165,000, about a $10,000 increase from 2019, indicating the reductions put in place during the COVID-19 public health emergency did not have a lasting impact, according to an analysis by the National Association of Law Placement.

The findings were part NALP’s just-released 2021 Associate Salary Survey report based on 572 responses. The last survey was conducted in 2019.

Although nearly 63% of law offices reported implementing salary reductions for associates in 2020 because of the global pandemic, the survey noted all of these offices indicated that salary reductions were no longer in place as of Jan. 1, 2021. NALP concluded the belt-tightening had little to no impact on 2021 salaries.

Still salary bumps varied by the size and location of the firm.

The greatest salary growth was recorded in firms of 101-250 lawyers where the median first-year base salaries increased $15,000 from $115,000 in 2019 to $130,000 in 2021. Likewise, first-year salaries in firms of 251-500 lawyers and of more than 700 attorneys each grew by $10,000 compared to 2019, rising to $170,000 and $190,000, respectively.

Conversely, salaries in firms of 501-700 lawyers dipped from $160,000 in 2019 to $155,000 in 2021. NALP explained the decrease does not indicate that these firms have lowered their starting salaries since 2019. Rather the reduction is because of differences in the composition of firms that fell into this size category between the two years.

Also, NALP found geography continues to have a considerable impact on salary difference across regions, cities and states.

Outside some of the largest markets, $190,000 salaries were not the norm. Regionally, the highest median first-year associate base salaries were in the Northeast at $175,000, followed by the South and West, both at $170,000. The lowest salaries were in the Midwest at $130,000.

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