National Jurist - January 2008 - 31
$How will much BY URSULA FURI-PERRY, J.D. January 2008 THE NATIONAL JURIST 31 $$ you earn Some 2008 graduates will earn $160,000 in their first year. But while big firm salaries keep rising, most recent graduates will earn far less. Find out where your school places in terms of starting salaries, why big firm salaries are outpacing other employers, and why you might not want that $160,000-a-year job after all. ? Starting salaries at the nation’s largest law firms have more than doubled over the past ten years — with this year’s graduates expected to earn $160,000. But as fantastic and amazing as that growth is, it is even more surprising that all other legal employers – from mid-sized law firms to government — have increased starting salaries at only a fraction of that pace. Associates at firms with 2 to 25 lawyers, which make up the bulk of all employers, increased salaries by a modest 33 percent over the past ten years. The resulting salary differences between large law firm associates and new lawyers at other employers are essentially creating two classes of recent law graduates: The haves and the havenots. And the differences can easily be seen on a school-by-school basis. While there are ten law schools with average starting salaries above $100,000, there are 58 with salaries of $60,000 or less. Law schools that feed graduates into the top law firms — higher ranked schools in bigger cities — report much higher salaries than regional, rural schools. But the jobs that pay the most also demand the most. Many young attorneys have found that the “golden handcuffs” of large law firms are not worth it. Most of the large law firms demand long hours, and that makes quality of life a challenge. Why the large-firm growth? Most experts agree that big firms’ salary increases happened as a result of simple economics. It’s a case of supply and demand, said James G. Leipold, executive director of NALP. Large firms are reporting bringing in bigger associate classes. At the same time, the number of law school graduates has stayed about the same as in previous years. As demand for top graduates has increased and supply stayed stagnant, firms and other legal employers have begun to compete more for employees, particularly top graduates from top law schools. And large firms are raising salaries simply because they can afford it. Big $ $ $
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