Associate Salaries, Boutique Law Firms, Intellectual Property, Small Law Firms

New York to $180K. I’m Totally Serious.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a good New York to 190 post. As we’ve discussed before, associate salaries at New York law firms are long overdue for a raise. Starting salaries have stagnated in New York.

What’s worse, total associate compensation has gone down this year from last year, thanks to Cravath’s low bonus and the absence of spring bonuses. The buying power of a New York associate is pathetic.

But one new firm in New York seems poised to change that. The firm isn’t nearly as big as our salary market leaders, but the firm is leaving the stagnated Cravath salary scale in the dust…

The firm is Desmarais LLP. John Desmarais founded the firm after a successful stint as the global head of the IP group at Kirkland & Ellis. While K&E remains committed to paying its associates on the Cravath scale, Desmarais’s firm can do better.

Here’s the message from a happy Desmarais associate:

Last Friday, we had an all attorney meeting, where we were told that effective May 1, our base salaries (which are at the standard NY market scale) were all being raised $20K; i.e., first year salaries will start at $180k, second year salaries will be $190k, etc.

John Desmarais confirmed the news in an email to Above the Law:

We raised each associate year by $20,000 above the NY market. We believe we have the best folks, and our practice is at the top of the field. So, we intend our lawyers to be compensated above the other NY firms.

Wow, that’s great. It’s been so long since a firm wanted to reward people for the firm’s overall success, I almost forgot what it looks like.

And eventually this has to trickle down to recruiting. All throughout bonus season, we saw smaller firms in New York beat the bag out of the Cravath bonus. Now we see Desmarais overtopping the Cravath starting salary. How long are supposedly bright law students going to keep flocking to firms like Cravath that clearly are no longer paying top dollar for their services?

But instead of talking about how sad Cravath and other Biglaw associates should be, let’s talk about how happy Desmarais associates are for making the right decision:

It does feel good. Associates are happy that the firm recognizes their hard work.

They should feel good. Working for a firm that isn’t trying to cheap you at every opportunity is a nice thing, and not at all a feeling that their peers at Cravath are familiar with.

Earlier: New York to $190K? Actually, It’s About Time.

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