Salaries for beginning associates at big firms soared by $10,000 this year, marking the first increase in pay for new lawyers since 2000, according to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).

Salaries for beginning associates at big firms soared by $10,000 this year, marking the first increase in pay for new lawyers since 2000, according to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). 2

The most common first-year associate salary at law firms with more than 500 attorneys climbed to $135,000 in 2006, NALP reported. That figure likely was welcome relief for law graduates, whose salaries at those firms were stagnant at $125,000 from 2000 to 2005.

The rise in pay, in large part, represents a competition among law firms to recruit top talent in a market with plenty of work but a declining number of law school applicants. But what may be a quick recruiting fix could exacerbate the associate attrition problem.

“It can be ironically self-defeating,” said Ward Bower, a principal at Altman Weil, a law firm consultancy.

The escalation of starting salaries “compresses” compensation for junior attorneys in general, Bower explained, which means that third-, fourth- and fifth-year associates do not receive increases proportionate to what their beginning colleagues are making.

The result, then, is a heightened incentive for new lawyers to use their hefty salaries to pay down debt quickly and bid adieu to a big firm after a few years, Bower said.

Scroll to Top