At Last! Top 8 Biglaw Firm Reportedly Raises Salaries — But Hold the Applause
September 23, 2022
After months of waiting, years of suffering, and weeks of wondering, it appears as though Biglaw has finally experienced its first salary raise since 2009 . . . but this isn’t any old raise — according to the reports, there will be three different raises based on class year and location,
with the increases ranging from $25K to $65K! While this news will certainly bring joy to the hearts of thousands of associates around the country, there are a few items to keep in mind before you get too excited.
Who got raises?
On April 6, 2018, it was reported that a top eight law Biglaw firm had raised salaries for its lawyers. For junior associates, for example, monthly salaries rose to $2,250 from $1,875.
However, not every class year got raises; in fact, only two out of three class years of associates saw their salaries go up (those in their first and third years). Furthermore,
this Biglaw firm also decided not to raise pay for senior associates and partners (from second-year junior associates up to seventh-year partners), suggesting that there may be other factors at play besides fairness.
Indeed, when you look deeper into the reasons for these raises it seems that they are designed with one primary purpose: to slow attrition.
What about associates who didn’t get promoted?
It’s not every day that a Biglaw firm announces raises across all class years, in every office, and on all rungs of the ladder. So, naturally, some folks are feeling neglected. After all, if you aren’t qualified for promotion to next year’s law school class—and some shops are only taking law grads into their 2020 incoming classes—what good does it do you to get your salary bumped up this year?
It could even be argued that these Biglaw firms have set up a two-tiered system of legal employment: one for current associates and one for new hires. The less happy an associate is about his salary increase at this point, the more likely he will walk out on Friday and not return until Monday.
What else did the firm do?
It is unclear if the salary increase across class years and offices will be meaningful enough to ensure a sustainable and competitive compensation scale, especially as it pertains to associates. Perhaps more importantly, it is questionable whether this raise is indicative of a deeper attitude change within these Biglaw firms,
or rather an acknowledgment that someone has found the penny at the bottom of their jar. Regardless, while it appears they are raising salaries marginally, there is still no sign of meaningful change to come from these firms anytime soon.
Hopefully, it’s not too late for some law Biglaw firms that deserve every penny for their hard work and commitment to improving their culture for the people who work there as well as those who provide legal services in society as a whole.
Was there an increase in bonuses this year?
HOLY SMOKES YES THERE WAS AN INCREASE IN BONUSES THIS YEAR. IT’S BEEN REPORTED THAT THE TOP 8 FIRM FROM LAST YEAR HAS ALREADY RAISED THEIR BONUS, WITH PLENTY OF TIME LEFT BEFORE GOING OUT TO LUNCH. SOME COLD HARD NUMBERS FOR YOU: $230-$1,300 FIRST-YEAR CLASS AVG. / $420-$2,500 SECOND-YEAR CLASS AVG. AS COMPARED TO LAST YEAR’S $200-$800 FIRST-YEAR CLASS AVG. / $600-$2,500 SECOND-YEAR CLASS AVG.
New York City raise
Employees at Biglaw firms in New York City are finally getting some salary relief, with some of the top eight firms like Sullivan & Cromwell and Paul Weiss announcing this week that they will be raising salaries for junior associates by 10 percent to 15 percent.
The top eight most competitive firms reportedly agreed to provide those raises after facing pressure from headhunters who have reported it has become increasingly difficult to find enough qualified attorneys from other firms or government positions.
Despite this progress, however, there is still a significant gap between what these firms pay new associates versus what they offer partners. To fill this gap, these companies are offering substantial bonuses while scaling back on one day per week when junior associates work with partners on client matters. At last!
This is an exciting piece of news. Biglaw firms seem to be listening and acknowledging that they may not be paying enough for students who are well-qualified but could struggle to make ends meet. The pay increase brings their salaries in line with their counterparts at less prestigious institutions.
While it may have been better for each class year to get a raise, I’m relieved that at least some of them will be rewarded for their hard work. Unfortunately, the firms don’t think this should apply across the board or even across offices (it’s been reported that Birmingham/Nashville, and LA offices weren’t included).
To be sure, some firms have raised salaries. Columbia and Jones Day have reportedly been increasing salaries for attorneys at all class years and across the board for all offices. Other firms, however, have not.
Thomson Reuters recently reported that senior attorneys in Washington, D.C., with five or more years of experience, can expect an average increase of about $5,000.
New associates in DC also saw a pay raise–but only to $130 per hour from $125 per hour. And those increases are by no means uniform: the law Biglaw firm with the most generous pay increase was Perkins Coie; senior associates there saw a 16% increase in their starting salary to $190 per hour. Why does it matter?
It is refreshing to see that some Biglaw firms are finally starting to give back a little of what they’ve taken from us. However, this raise is a mixed bag.
In Los Angeles, offices with most lawyers making $180K or less (typically associate attorneys) will be receiving an average increase of about $5K per year. No Biglaw firm in LA will have an average salary of more than $240K ($200K + bonus). Additionally,
pay increases for attorneys who make at least $200M each year (executive partners and managing partners) do not appear to have been addressed and it’s unclear whether these raises will happen in upcoming months or years.
Keep browsing Law Scribd for more updates.