Non-lawyers are often surprised to learn of the lockstep salary schemes of large law firms and the near-perfect information we have about them. (Recall Kevin Drum’s befuddlement at the bi-modal distribution of law graduate salaries and the “weird cultural collusion” it suggested.) Even annual bonuses are frequently spelled out in what amounts to public memoranda and are typically some variation of the “market” dictated by our Cravath overlords. Of course, there are some “black box” firms and a few gilded outliers such as Wachtell Lipton or Boies Schiller, but generally speaking, the world of large firms practices a degree of relative transparency around compensation that is unsurpassed outside the public sector.
In order to distinguish among firms, we have to look to the margins. For example, law firms vary quite a bit when it comes to paying for the bar and living expenses of incoming associates. Some firms may reimburse for covered expenses after the fact; others may pay some expenses directly to the provider. Some may give a stipend to cover living expenses, whereas others may offer the ability to take out an advance on salary.
Greater transparency (or, at least, aggregated information) on these questions might make one firm’s offer more attractive than another’s, or perhaps even give an offeree some basis for negotiating a package upgrade (but of course tread very lightly there)….
- Which bar exam expenses the firm will reimburse
- Whether the firm pays new associates a summer stipend or a signing bonus or graduation bonus (not counting clerkship bonuses, which are discussed elsewhere)
- Whether the firm provides salary advances (i.e., loans) in any particular amounts
- Whether the firm provides any particular relocation benefits
- Whether the firm provides a pro-rated bonus (a “stub bonus”) for the period between the start date and the end of that year
- Whether the firm will make associates pay it all back if they leave (as a general rule, payback requirements will apply to everything but a stub bonus, and will include clerkship bonuses).
For the firms we profile in the ATL Law Firm Directory, our own research shows that:
- 21% do not offer a bar stipend or signing/graduation bonus
- Average stipend: $5,400
- Highest stipend: Finnegan Henderson, $18,461.00
- 55% do not offer a salary advance
- Average salary advance: $3,900
- Highest salary advance: Wachtell Lipton, $20,000
- 68% do not offer a stub bonus
Every firm was given the opportunity to revise/update/clarify its information. That opportunity is still wide open for the firms; please just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll revise our information. For the full round-up of information for all our profiled firms: