Associate Salaries

Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

We’ve been enjoying the occasional trip back in time to look at Biglaw in ages past. In prior Flashback Friday posts, we’ve covered such topics as the most prestigious law firms in 1998 and billable hours in the 1990s.

And, of course, we have covered compensation. We’ve done two posts so far looking at associate comp in the 1990s, in New York and in other cities — Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles.

Today we’ll close out the series with an overview of associate pay in the remaining markets of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco/Palo Alto, and Washington, D.C….

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It’s always sunny – or raining money? – in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia: it’s all about the Benjamin. The city abounds in tributes to its famous founding father, Benjamin Franklin. It even boasts a museum devoted to his life and times.

And maybe Philly will be all about the benjamins, plural — as in hundred-dollar bills. There’s speculation afoot that the new going rate for first-year associates in this city could rise to $160,000.

What’s the basis of the speculation? And could a Philadelphia pay raise have implications for other markets?

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Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

Last month, we took a look at associate compensation in the 1990s. Our post focused on the cities of Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles. We said that in the future we’d look at remaining major markets: New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco/Palo Alto, and Washington, D.C.

Today we’ll tackle Biglaw in the Big Apple. What were NYC salaries like in the last millennium?

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Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

Some of our readers are old enough to remember the 1990s. It was, in my opinion, a glorious decade for popular music. (I have a collection of beloved cassette singles from that era.)

But we’re here to talk about the legal profession, not pop music. What were the nineties like for Biglaw?

Also glorious. There was a recession in the early 1990s, but for the most part, times were good. This was especially true near the tail end of the decade, when the booming dot-com economy filled the coffers of many large law firms (before the arrival of the early 2000s recession).

How much of that wealth trickled down to the associates? Let’s find out….

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“No, I’m cool that you might be making twice as much even though you skipped out to go to the Katy Perry concert.”

Propaganda is only partially about justifying horrible things to the masses. It’s also about salving the doubts of the oppressors. How can they be wrong when there’s a 70-foot statue dedicated to their divinity right there?

The slow march to opacity is one of the single worst developments in the Biglaw model over the last several years. Whether in the name of some half-baked strain of libertarian idealism or just to keep from being publicly judged by ATL readers, a few firms have increasingly moved compensation packages into a black box, starting with complex bonus award structures, then hiding even those frameworks, and now some even hide base compensation.

It’s an awful practice, and while some have the reputation to get away with it, it’s certainly frowned upon by lawyers and prospective lawyers steeped in the notion that this is a collegial profession.

So one firm put their public relations flaks on drafting a spirited defense of their black box so they can sleep better at night….

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Despite making six figures, some Biglaw associates are still unhappy with the amount of money they take home. Starting salaries at some firms are larger than at others, and for all of the intense labor that comes with being an associate, it’s just not fair.

How should Biglaw firms respond to these complaints? Some of the more enlightened members of law firm leadership would increase their associates’ salaries to match the rest of the market, but most would happily continue to work their associates to the bone and ignore their wage woes.

One firm apparently thought it had found a way around associates’ salary grievances, but it may have just backfired. Straight from the firm that produced the sexist women’s style memo seen ’round the world, we bring you what seems to be one of the craziest incentive programs we’ve ever heard of…

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Entry-level Biglaw salaries soon?

* The times are a-changin’ for Biglaw in many ways, and lawyers may soon see their starting pay take a dive because clients think they “continue to be too expensive.” [WSJ Law Blog]

* Foley & Lardner plans to shutter its San Diego shop, following in the footsteps of other Biglaw behemoths. Not to worry, no one’s been laid off — that we know of, that is. [Am Law Daily]

* Say hello to Alabama Law’s new dean, Mark Brandon. Maybe he’ll be the man to propel the school to a #5 ranking in a publication other than National Jurist. ROLL TIDE! [National Law Journal]

* Earlier this week, an Idaho judge struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage, and now she’s refusing to issue a stay. Good on you, judge, but the Ninth Circuit may put those marriages in limbo for a while. [NPR]

* Speaking of judges who’re refusing to stay same-sex marriage rulings, last night, the Arkansas Supreme Court turned down the state attorney general’s request to put a stop to marriage equality. [USA Today]

* A lawyer working as Board of Education president in Mahopac, New York, resigned from his position after calling a PTA volunteer a “chubby wubby” at a school board meeting. That’s not very nice. [Journal News]

* The $160K-Plus Club welcomes its newest member: Duval & Stachenfeld, a real estate firm in NY, is more than doubling its starting salary for associates to $175K. Look for them recruiting at your “tier one” school soon. [New York Law Journal]

* In this economy, bankruptcy firms are being hit hard: Stutman Treister & Glatt, a top L.A. firm that once assisted in cases against Lehman Brothers and Enron Corp. in their Chapter 11 proceedings, is closing up shop. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* It ain’t easy being dean at the law school with the best Biglaw prospects — oh wait, yes it is. Congrats to Gillian Lester, who will serve as Columbia Law’s fifteenth dean come January 2015. [Columbia News]

* “Do I think he thought he was gonna beat it? Yeah.” The district attorney who brought charges against Stephen McDaniel thinks the law school killer was too big for his chainmail britches. [Macon Telegraph]

* From catcalling to “jiggle tests,” NFL cheerleaders have to put up with a lot of really ridiculous stuff. Not being paid the minimum wage is one thing, but having to put up with being groped is quite another. [TIME]

Earlier this month, we asked: What’s Going On At Kirkland & Ellis? Some observers wondered whether K&E, arguably the nation’s best overall law firm, was experiencing an unusually high number of prominent partner departures.

We received some interesting responses from Kirkland sources, some defending the firm and some more critical. Let’s hear what these readers had to share with us….

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Congratulations to the 10 new partners at Bingham McCutchen. They’re a diverse group, coming from a wide range of practice areas and six different offices. The gender balance could be better — only two of the new partners are women — but on the bright side, the group includes two former Supreme Court clerks.

And congratulations to Bingham McCutchen associates on their bonuses, which the firm announced yesterday. How are they looking?

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