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Salaries for entry-level associates top $200,000 at the world’s top law firms

Average first-year attorney salaries have increased steadily over the years to about $190,000 for the largest firms, according to the National Law Placement Association.  This year, a handful of large companies have announced increases of up to $200,000 to their start-up partners
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Beginner salaries at many law firms exceed $200,000, an increase for the first time in years, as they compete to retain talent after a year that saw huge earnings increases – despite the pandemic – in the industry.

New York-based Milbank LLP appears to herald a round of recent increases for first-year partners at large competitive firms with the announcement last week that recent law school graduates will start at $200,000.

The previous median starting salary for large firms, which employ 700 or more attorneys, was $190,000, according to the National Association of Legal Employment (NALP), which tracks hiring trends in the industry.

Average first-year attorney salaries have increased steadily over the years to about $190,000 for the largest firms, according to the National Law Placement Association. This year, a handful of large companies have announced increases of up to $200,000 to their start-up partners

According to the Wall Street Journal, Millbank, which employs about 765 attorneys, set an earlier benchmark in 2018.

The outlet also reported that the number could rise even higher, with an announcement on Friday by New York-based Davis Polk & Wardell LLP that 2021 law school graduates could earn $202,500 at the firm, which employs nearly 1,000 attorneys.

Many of these assistants will not yet pass the bar exam, and in a few cases they may not need to at all. Bloomberg Law reports that quite a few state bar associations have chosen to substitute the “diploma privilege” for passing the semi-annual exam.

Huge salaries can come with a heavy workload; Many entry-level employees at the largest companies are paid more than 2,000 hours a year, according to the NALP, which could mean workweeks exceed 40 hours.

Milbank LLP has set a new salary hiring standard by announcing last week that the company's new law school graduates will start at $200,000.  Pictured are Milbank offices in New York

Milbank LLP has set a new salary hiring standard by announcing last week that the company’s new law school graduates will start at $200,000. Pictured are Milbank offices in New York

Additionally, as telecommuting has become the norm in many businesses, long hours working at home have taken a toll on associate mental health.

“It’s been tough,” Scott Edelman, chairman of Millbank, told the Wall Street Journal. “There is no division between work and non-work, recharging from social interactions.”

Law.com reports that some have responded by increasing vacation time.

“We basically told them, telling our talent, that you need to take time off,” said Margo Trammell, director of professional development for the Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck in Colorado, which employs about 250 attorneys.

The increases come at a time when major companies have seen an increase in profits as business continues but travel expenses have fallen to nearly zero.

New York-based Davis Polk & Wardell LLP also announced a payroll increase, with the company telling its lawyers that first-year assistant salaries will start at $202,500, as large companies pass a year of record earnings to their workers.

New York-based Davis Polk & Wardell LLP also announced a payroll increase, with the company telling its lawyers that first-year assistant salaries will start at $202,500, as large companies pass a year of record earnings to their workers.

Last month’s report from the Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor, which tracks the performance of law firms, showed that statutory rates increased 4.7% over the past year, while office costs fell 37.2%, and overall overheads fell an average of 8.5%, driving up profits. .

In Milbank, revenues grew 15.6% to 1.23 billion dollars, and profits 16%, approaching 4.5 million dollars, the newspaper said, and the company decided to transfer these profits to its workers.

Other companies that have announced increases over the past week include Cadwallader, New York-based Wickersham & Taft LLP, Mintz, Levine, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky, Bobbio BC and Proskauer Rose LLP.

Still, others are delaying their payroll increases, with global company Nixon Peabody LLP announcing last week that it has set its starting salary range from $120,000 to $190,000 depending on the market, the magazine reported.

While only a small percentage of law school graduates get jobs in the largest, high-paying firms, their entry-level salaries are many times higher than those in other industries.

For example, new psychologists and professional accounting professionals earn less than $60,000 when starting, according to the magazine, and college professors and physician assistants start at $80,000 and $110,000, respectively.

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