And thanks to one firm, the new lawyers can expect higher pay than in the past. The going rate at large firms in New York has reached $145,000 — apart from starting and year-end bonuses — while the base salary in cities other than New York is approximately $10,000 lower, according to an annual study released Aug. 1 by the National Association for Law Placement.
The recent round of pay increases began last year, when Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, a litigation firm based in California with offices in New York, decided to increase the base pay for first-year associates to $135,000, which at the time exceeded even the $125,000 starting salary common at many New York firms. A partner, A. William Urquhart, said his firm “hoped bigger firms wouldn’t follow so we could separate ourselves, but they did.”
A few months later, Sullivan & Cromwell, a large law firm with headquarters in New York, raised the base salary for new lawyers by $20,000, to $145,000.
In this age of instant communication, it did not take long for word of the raise to spread. Associates heard of the increases via BlackBerry and text messaging as well as from legal publications and Web sites like vault.com and greedyassociates.com. And the associates were not shy about sharing their knowledge with the partners of their firms.
Mr. Urquhart said: “Typically I will find out what is happening with salaries within hours, either through my daughter, who is a third-year associate at a New York firm, or through recruitment coordinators. The news travels like lightning.”
Salary discussions in most professions are confidential, but candor is the rule at law firms.
“It’s a funny phenomenon that it’s all very public,’’ said Steven J. Steinman, a partner at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. “It’s an unusual facet of practicing law that if you’re an associate your salary is very well known. I don’t know of any other industry where you can find out with specificity what people make.”
Jamie Gordon, who is near the end of her first year as an associate at Proskauer Rose, said there was a “buzz about the raise,” at Proskauer when Sullivan increased its base rate. Soon enough, Proskauer raised its own rate for associates. “And people were happy,” Ms. Gordon said.
As a result of the increase at Sullivan & Cromwell, Quinn Emanuel, and most large New York firms, quickly raised its starting pay again to match the new standard.