Woe is Me: Median Starting Salary at Big Law Drops to $145,000

By Andrew Lu on October 02, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For the past several years, the median starting salary at Big Law has been at the storied $160,000 mark.

But for the first time since 2009, less than half of Big Law (firms with more than 700 lawyers) actually gave out these $160,000 paychecks. Instead, the median starting salary at these firms is now $145,000 for starting associates, according to a NALP survey.

The $145,000 median starting salary matches the median five years ago in 2007. This backslide may prove that the laws of gravity do apply to lawyer pay and that the starting salaries for associates will not continually march upwards. But more likely, this year may only prove to be a glitch in the inevitable climb to $175,000 and even $200,000.

If you want to get the big paychecks, you have to work in the big markets. You may still expect to be paid $160,000 if you work in New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and other large cities, reports Above the Law.

Even if you find yourself hovering closer to the $145,000 range, you should still count yourself lucky. The NALP survey indicates that the median salary for starting lawyers at firms with two to 25 attorneys in only $70,750. You don't need to be a mathematician to know this is less than half.

Surprisingly, despite the decrease in starting salaries at Big Law and the low starting salaries at Small Law, the overall median first-year salary at firms of all sizes is now $125,000, reports Above the Law. This is up from $115,000 last year.

While we write about the six-figure starting salaries at firms, the truth facing most lawyers is getting a job in the first place. Big Law can afford to pay lower salaries because the supply of lawyers has so overtaken demand. So as the best and brightest fret over how to survive on only $145,000, the rest of us have to figure out how to even get a paycheck.

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