Associate Salaries

I worked for twenty years at the darkest of the black-box compensation law firms: No one knew what anyone else was being paid, and the firm forbade talking about compensation. Here’s the curious part: We obeyed.

I saw the raised eyebrows of partners considering moving laterally to my firm: “Right — no one talks about compensation. You guys must talk about it all the time, just like we do at my firm. It can’t be a secret.”

Wrong. We really, honest-to-God did not talk about compensation. The subject just didn’t come up.

I’ve heard second-hand that this is true for other black-box firms, too. The managing partner of a different large, black-box comp firm recently told one of my colleagues: “Once you take compensation out of the limelight and forbid people from talking about it, then people stop talking about it. The subject drops off the table.”

That sets the stage: At firms where lawyers are permitted to talk about each other’s compensation, they do. And at firms where lawyers are prohibited from talking about compensation, they don’t.

Riddle me this: In corporate law departments, we are not prohibited from discussing each other’s compensation, but we don’t do it anyway. Why is that?

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Earlier this week, we brought you some news about an “excellent position” that a tipster found on Boston College Law School’s Symplicity site. As a quick refresher, BC Law touts a median starting salary of $160,000 for graduates in the class of 2010 who entered into private practice. This job… doesn’t come anywhere close to that number.

The position in question promised benefits such as malpractice insurance, health insurance, a clothing allowance, and an MBTA pass, but the starting salary was only $10,000. The MBTA pass must’ve been thrown in as a housing benefit, because the firm had to have known that on a salary that’s below minimum wage, their new associate would be forced to live in the Boston subway system.

As we noted in Morning Docket, one of the firm’s hiring partners has now spoken out about the job, and a spokesman from Boston College Law has come to the school’s defense, too. Let’s take a look at some of their bullsh*t explanations rationales for posting this “excellent position”….

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So, we often bring you stories about terrible job offers for recent law school graduates. And we often bring you stories about how law school statistics about the success of their graduates can sometimes be misleading.

Today, let’s put those stories together. Let’s take a look at a job that will pay you way below minimum wage that’s being offered to law grads from the same school that proudly boasts a “median” private practice salary of $160,000 within nine months of graduation.

Juxtaposition for the win….

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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…

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Today we bring you good news and bad news from Dickstein Shapiro, a prominent Am Law 200 firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. (with offices in five other locations). Let’s start with the good news.

The good news: last month, the firm brought associate salaries up to the market scale (i.e., $160K for first-year associates, $170K for second-years, $185K for third-years, etc.). As you may recall from some of our prior coverage, for a time Dickstein was paying below-market salaries, pursuant to a non-lockstep compensation system.

(A pay-related aside: it seems that we never covered the most recent bonus cycle at Dickstein. If you have info you can share, on bonuses or salaries or anything else about the firm, please email us, subject line “Dickstein Shapiro.”)

Now, on to the bad news….

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In late February, bonuses were announced at Jenner & Block. The firm has an individualized bonus system, so there’s no table to pass along.

And it’s harder to assess associate reactions to bonuses in a non-lockstep system. But we’ll give it a shot, and we’ll also share with you some information provided by the firm itself….

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Yes, we know: everyone is waiting for, hoping for, and praying for spring bonuses. We’ve been banging on that drum repeatedly in these pages, but let’s be honest: aren’t we just waiting on Sullivan & Cromwell? As far as we know, S&C is the only firm that stated, in its year-end bonus memo, that it “currently expects to pay a bonus in the Spring.” If Sullivan moves, others will; if it doesn’t, then we’ll be waiting a long time.

Anyway, here’s a sign of how late spring bonuses are. Last year, McDermott Will & Emery issued a consolidated bonus announcement, in which it combined year-end and spring bonuses. This time around, well, there’s nothing to combine.

But let’s get into it anyway. Last week, McDermott informed individual associates of their bonuses. What do MWE associates think of their pay?

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We’re getting back into the Biglaw bonus beat here at Above the Law. Yesterday, for example, we covered Winston & Strawn’s bonus news.

Today we’ll take a look at bonuses over at Baker Botts. Is it true that everything is bigger in Texas?

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Congratulations to Bingham McCutchen, which recently earned a spot on Fortune’s best companies to work for — for the eighth year in a row. And congratulations to Bingham’s nine new partners. It’s a very international group: these seven men and two women work out of London (3), New York (3), Hong Kong (1), Boston (1), and Hartford (1).

And congratulations to high-billing associates at Bingham. They were rewarded with “extraordinary” bonuses, as set forth in the firm’s bonus memo….

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Today everyone’s talking tech, thanks to Facebook’s upcoming IPO. In light of how Silicon Valley is dominating the news cycle, it seems fitting to discuss the recent bonus and salary news from Wilson Sonsini — one of SV’s top firms, and counsel over the years to many startup companies turned tech giants.

(But not Facebook, at least with respect to the IPO. That’s being handled by Fenwick & West and Simpson Thacher.)

So what kind of bonuses did WSGR just announce? Let’s find out….

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