Major Law Firms Announce Salary Increases

Milbank and Fried Frank (two separate biglaw law firms) today announced increased lockstep base salary scale (other biglaw firms expected to follow):

First Years $200,000 base salary plus bonus (up from $190,000 plus bonus)
Second $210,000
Third $230,000
Fourth $270,000
Fifth $295,000
Sixth $320,000
Seventh $340,000
Eighth $355,000

Bonus pay can be from a low of $15,000 to $20,000 for First Year Associates to over $100,000 for Senior Associates (6th Years +).

Signing bonuses for transactional lateral transfers (switching firms) ranges from a low of $15,000 up to a reported high of $250,000.

I found Andrew Yang’s description of what goes on at major law firms to be most apt. Yang, a graduate of Brown and Columbia Law School, compared life at a major NYC law firm to a pie eating contest in which the reward for winning the contest was more pie.

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It has long been said that the reward for doing excellent work in a major law firm is more work. Regardless, biglaw law firms have been paying out multiple bonuses (year end & retention) this year. And, of course, one can become a partner with typical year end bonuses at major firms in the range of over one million to five million dollar dollars.

So much more difficult. The issue is what happens to the lawyers who don’t make it through the gauntlet to partner.

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Lots become “of counsel” with compensation near or above $500,000–although this year comp should be higher due to the flood of lucrative M&A business. Others go to a position as in-house counsel or take a federal government attorney position.

Also, this year some firms have made quick promotions to partner some associates that the firm considers too valuable to lose.

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I know plenty that abandoned law altogether.

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Remember a closing in NYC many years ago (back when in person closings were a thing). Firm hosting the closing had a clothing store in the lobby. If an attorney worked all night the firm reimbursed her/him for a new shirt at that store. Group of associates were talking about how many new shirts they got that week. Element of pride in the discussion in terms of who got more.

A lot of competition right now for transactional attorneys. Definitely a seller’s market.

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And the vast majority of law students who don’t make it to BigLaw firms in the first place. Even at Harvard, only 60% of their 2020 graduates ended up at law firms at all. (It is fair to note, though, that another 18% were doing judicial clerkships, and a lot of those graduates do go into BigLaw after a few years.)

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