Associate Salaries

There’s good news, and there’s bad news. Or maybe good news with a catch, as we mentioned in Morning Docket.

The good news: Greenberg Traurig is hiring. The catch: the positions don’t pay $160,000 a year (or even $145,000, the new starting salary in GT’s Miami and Fort Lauderdale offices).

Following the lead of Kilpatrick Stockton, Orrick, and other Biglaw firms, Greenberg Traurig has created some new non-partnership-track attorney positions. They pay less than traditional partnership-track — or, in GT parlance, shareholder-track — positions, but the billable-hour requirements are lower and the training is better.

What do these positions look like? Let’s find out….

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[T]here is nothing about the current market that suggests starting associate salaries will be moving up any time soon.

James Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), crushing the hopes and dreams of future Biglaw associates across the nation. Salaries for entry-level attorneys have been “essentially flat” since 2007 (although median pay rose to $160,000 once again after slipping to $145,000 last year).

You mean this groundbreaking Newtonian equation might be wrong?

One of the things I’ve learned in my time here at Above the Law is that most people are desperate to justify the decisions they’ve made, even if you can logically show them that they made the wrong call. People who go to terrible law schools argue endlessly that either their law school isn’t so terrible, or that they personally made a good call to go to a terrible school. People who are willing to take a massive pay cut to get the hell out of a soul-destroying Biglaw firm will still tell you that they “really valued” their time there. Obama voters look the other way while the “progressive” president allows robots to indiscriminately rain down death from the sky. Republicans act like they’re just supporting the “conservative fiscal policies” of the nutjob racists and homophobes they vote for.

Everybody wants to feel like every decision they made was the “right” one in some way. People like me who are willing to publicly admit that they’ve made some freaking awful decisions that haunt them to this day (like defaulting on my debts) are rare.

I don’t think we needed a whole study to make that point. I certainly don’t think we learn a lot by asking lawyers — generally employed lawyers — if they are “happy” with their decision to go to law school. What are they going to say? “Dear God, no. I hate my life. Please help me.”

But some law professors did ask that question, and SURPRISE, it turns out that going to an “elite” law school doesn’t automatically make you happier with your career decisions than going to a slightly less elite law school. Wow. In other super shocking news, marrying the hottest stripper in the club doesn’t make your marriage significantly more stable than marrying the second hottest stripper in the club….

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‘I love being an associate!’

We’ve waited a long time to type these words. A major law firm just raised starting salaries for first-year associates.

Before you start chanting “NY to 190,” however, there are some things you should know. The raise relates to associates in what some might call a “secondary” legal market; we’re not talking about New York, or Washington, or Los Angeles. Associates at this firm, even post-raise, won’t be making the magic number of $160,000 a year.

That said, the legal market in question is rather large, and the law firm in question is a national and even international player. So the move could have ramifications beyond just the affected associates….

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Very few people work in Biglaw for the thrill of being surrounded by lawyers. Nor are Biglaw refugees heard lamenting, on the odd chance they are lamenting leaving Biglaw at all, the fact that they are no longer surrounded by fellow attorneys. What do they miss, if anything? The money.

Biglaw refugees are not the only ones stirred by the thought of Biglaw’s outsized profits. Those profits are the nectar that draws the droves of worker-bee law students into the welcoming embrace of law schools. And the gruel that sustains the overworked bodies and minds of Biglaw’s associates and junior partners as they slave in the mineshafts hoping for their day in the sun. Biglaw’s millions are also the elixir that lubricates the arthritic joints of senior partners who insist on staying in their positions of power well past the expiration dates that their forebears adhered to. More than ever, it is about the money….

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Your final destination… is not a Biglaw job.

The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) has new numbers on the legal job market for recent graduates, and like it has been every year since the start of the Great Recession, those numbers are a horror show. A freaking horror show. They might as well put three recent graduates in a room with one job offer in it, handcuff the graduates to a pole, and give the offer to the one that eats through his arm first.

The other two would then get to leave the room unemployed, with some bite wounds, instead of unemployed with over $100,000 in debt, which is how people are actually leaving law school.

Do you want some good news? The lateral hiring market is hot. NALP executive director Jim Leipold called it a “feeding frenzy” for experienced associates. So if you got a job and held onto it through the 2009 layoffs, pick up your phone. It’s probably a recruiter calling. Congratulations on all your success.

If instead you were not lucky enough to be born five years earlier and have just graduated or are about to graduate, I don’t have anything for you — other than this here hacksaw. Chop, chop….

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Would you go to work as a deep-sea welder and then complain that you don’t get home enough? Or how about an over-the-road truck driver? Or a fireperson(?) who works three on/three off shifts? No, you wouldn’t. And who would be so dim, right? People going into those jobs know the requirements up front, and still choose them. They don’t later bitch and moan that what they lack is a fireman’s committee that will present grievances to the higher-ups – and they especially don’t complain about this falsehood called work-life balance.

At my last firm, there was just such an “Associate’s Committee,” and they put together a manifesto of sorts that they presented to the partnership. And you know what? Not a damned thing changed, except the partners got angry. And I was angry. It was embarrassing to me that I would be viewed by some partners as actually agreeing to that tripe. I knew what I was in for when I signed on for firm life so very long ago. Don’t get me wrong, I am not taking the tack of a codger lecturing to newbie “why, in my day…” To the contrary, I am speechifying that if you find yourself in a position at a law firm in which you are unhappy, it is likely your own damn fault.

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Many good things can be said about Jenner & Block. Above the Law readers who work there give it an overall grade of A-minus. It’s a top law firm for diversity.

The firm has a long and distinguished history of pro bono work. And it’s a leader in the area of government service. Many of its lawyers used to work at the Justice Department, the White House, and other top governmental entities. And many high-ranking government lawyers, such as solicitor general Donald Verrilli Jr., used to work at Jenner.

But what if you’re less interested in public service and more interested in debt service — specifically, retiring your own substantial law school loans? Is Jenner the best place to work?

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Law schools, don’t expect your applications to rebound anytime soon. The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) recently released data showing that fewer people took the February 2013 LSAT than any administration of the February test ever.

Forever ever? Forever ever. In fact, the number represents one of the smallest amounts of test takers since 1988.

1988, folks. The Berlin Wall was still up. People were listening to Rick Astley and not ironically.

The reduced number of test takers is certainly a result of students beginning to question the value proposition of law school. But some of it is undoubtedly the result of intelligent students questioning the value proposition of being a lawyer.

Would you want to go into a field that hasn’t seen a starting salary raise since 2007?

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Everything’s humming along nicely at Bingham McCutchen. The firm just named 13 new partners, up from nine partners last year. The firm was once again honored by Fortune magazine as a best company to work for (which marks the ninth straight year, for those of you who are counting).

And the firm just announced its bonuses, both ordinary and “extraordinary.” Let’s see the numbers….

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