For law firms, the devastation that swept through the legal marketplace in 2008 and 2009 has come to an end. Layoffs have stopped or at least have been sharply curtailed, firms that suspended hiring are recruiting once again, and profits, though flat or down, have stabilized at numbers that would make average middle-class American wage earners click their heels with delight.
Even the sky-high starting salaries for first-year lawyers, long the source of client frustration and complaints, appear to have come through largely unscathed.
For evidence of this look no further than a survey by the National Association for Law Placement, which found that in the biggest legal markets the going rate for first-years was still at its prerecession high of $160,000 a year.
In Philadelphia, where law salaries are slightly lower than in New York, and Washington, and other top markets, the trend was the same. First-year salaries at big firms were unchanged from 2007, before the start of the Great Recession, ranging this year from a low of $125,000 to a high of $145,000.
“The real story on associate salaries is that they have been largely flat during the recession,” said James Leipold, executive director of Washington-based NALP, and a resident of Philadelphia’s Fairmount section.
So is it safe to conclude that the big-law-firm model has come through unscathed after the worst downturn since the Great Depression.
Well, actually, no.
Associate salaries and other compensation metrics don’t come close to telling the story of changes under way in big law, say many of the profession’s sharpest observers.
Leipold and other experts point out that while many law firms struggled to maintain high salaries for associates for fear that salary cuts might be seen as an economic distress signal, they’ve been slashing costs in other ways.
Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/business/homepage/20100919_Law_Review__After_a_few_tough_years__law_firms_are_stabilizing.html#ixzz10PKzTX3W
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