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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, September 19, 2013

NALP: Associate Salaries Remain Flat

NALP New LogoNALP, Associate Salaries Bobble But Remain Essentially Flat (Sept. 18, 2013):

Starting associate salaries at large law firms have remained essentially flat since 2007, despite some erosion of the prevalence of $160,000 as the norm. New research from NALP reveals that first-year associate salaries of $160,000 are still widespread at large law firms of more than 700 lawyers — especially in large markets — and became somewhat more prevalent in 2013 compared with 2012, as a result pushing the median for this group of firms as a whole back up to $160,000 after it had dropped to $145,000 in 2012. Thus once again more than half of first-year salaries were reported as $160,000, as has been the case every year since 2008 with the exception of 2012. In 2013, about 56% of the starting salaries at firms of more than 700 lawyers were $160,000, compared to nearly two-thirds of the salaries in 2009, thus confirming the characterization of 2009 as the recent high point for large firm salaries. It also remains the case that $160,000 is also the high starting salary at these firms and has been the high since some firms moved to this starting salary in 2007. In this sense large firm salaries have remained essentially flat since the recession, as the high has generally remained unchanged for six years.

Distribution of Reported Full-Time Salaries — Class of 2012


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This chart ignores the uncompensated lawyers who are "employed" by U.S. attorneys nationwide, as well as uncompensated state AG offices and public interest groups. Across the country DOJ is employing substantial numbers of uncompensated "special assistant United States attorneys." Likewise, state AG offices are using large numbers of uncompensated "associate assistant attorneys general" and "staff attorneys," while legal aid offices and state public defenders do the same. Taking these $0 salaries into account would move the bimodal chart to the left in an unknown but observable quantity.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Sep 19, 2013 8:02:09 AM

Fortunately, the cost of attending law school has been flat since 2007, right?

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Sep 19, 2013 9:59:38 AM

BigLaw salaries will remain flat for at least the next 5 years, and probably the next decade. Clients are less willing to pay for 1st/2nd year associate work, so new hires are less lucrative for Firms.

This will have huge ramifications on elite law schools, i.e. top 10(ish). In about 5 years, COA at Harvard, Penn, Chicago, etc. will be around 100k/yr. That’s $300k in debt for most people, and at what figures to be a much higher interest rate since the most recent legislation. An entry level salary of $160k will not look so lucrative against these debt figures.

Also, prospective students might figure out that even if they land a Biglaw job, they likely will not be around for more than 4-5 years. They will not even be able to pay off their debt in that time, even if they continue to live on a grad student’s budget.

Top 10 law schools bring in very intelligent, savvy and self-interested students. Unlike those who go to lesser schools, these students will know when the chips are stacked against them, and they are likely to choose another career path.

Posted by: JM | Sep 19, 2013 12:54:51 PM

The thing is, the quality of life of every non-lawyer in America is inversely proportional to the aggregate income earned by lawyers.

That lawyers are making less, is good news for everyone else.

Posted by: TTT | Sep 19, 2013 5:20:33 PM


Actually, when HYS and New York Law School and Loyola and George Washington are all $100k/year, kids will come out owing closer to $350,000, since no federal student loans are subsidized anymore. And don't forget about undergrad debt!

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Sep 19, 2013 10:03:31 PM


Why is it so hard to get high profile bloggers (even well intended ones) to highlight the self-selection bias manifest in the NALP (and all other law school promoted) salary surveys?

*Reported* salaries.

**Reported** salaries.

***REPORTED*** freaking salaries!!!

I'll check this year's data but my recollection is that only something like ~50% of all JD grads (25k out of 45k JDs per year) report *any* salary data.

Any guesses as to which direction the non-reporters would pull the median salary?

(It ain't *up*...)

Posted by: cas127 | Sep 19, 2013 11:36:59 PM

And while we are on the subject of the "vanished 50%" of the profession, it is *very* interesting to note that the much reviewed S&M article (using Fed SIPP data) only found about 60% of all JDs working as, you know, *lawyers*.

(That interesting little nugget of a footnote was buried in S&M's pages and pages of obfuscatory math).

I don't think it is a coincidence that barely 50% of JDs have the stomach/heart to report their actual salaries to NALP when a pitiful 60% of all JDs (perhaps 800k out of 1.3 *million JDs over the last 40 years) even work in the profession.

In other words, 500k JDs have been conned into buying the world's most expensive worthless piece of paper - a law degree.

Posted by: cas127 | Sep 19, 2013 11:46:12 PM

Apparently, the sh*t never stops at the NALP.

Profoundly suspicious that the "% of reported salaries" used to generate the NALP's bi-modal salary distribution chart was vulnerable to self-selection bias (skewing the reported median salary *upward*) I explored the NALP site to see just how many of the ~45,000 JDs reported salaries to the NALP.

This was not an easy number to find (I wonder why...).

But, if one is to trust the NALP's city-by-city reporting (I know, I know, why trust the NALP...) found here -,

barely *20%* of JDs reported their salaries to the NALP.

And upon this slender, biased reed rests the NALP's assertion of $75k median salaries.

We are *years* into the exposure of the law school scam.

And *decades* into the scam itself.

And the NALP (creature of BigLaw and Law Schools) is still pulling this sh*t.

Posted by: cas127 | Sep 20, 2013 2:13:35 AM