Skip to navigationSkip to content

The state of salaries for new US law school graduates

Reuters/Jim Bourg
So are you the shark or the bait?
By Max Nisen
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Most statistics having to do with law school in the US have been pretty depressing. Enrollment has plummeted compared with fields like engineering, and test scores and standards are declining. It shouldn’t be a surprise that pay isn’t exactly roaring for new grads.

This year, the average starting salary for graduates across all firm sizes was $135,000, as reported by firms themselves to The National Association for Law Placement (NALP). That’s up from the year before, which likely reflects the fact that a greater proportion of large firms reported data this year. There’s been an increase of just $5,000 in salary levels from 2009 to today, with plenty of leaner years in between:

NALP also collects data from the associates themselves, who report salaries lower than what firms are saying. Either way, it’s a sad state of affairs for associates at small firms, even before you consider law school debt:

For associates at large firms, particularly in major cities, the outlook is somewhat less bleak. About 40% of associates at those firms are paid a yearly salary of $160,000, compared to nearly two thirds at 2009’s peak. According to NALP, this is because many large firms have been buying up smaller, more regional firms outside major urban centers where pay is higher. Those smaller firms often don’t pay their associates $160,000, which lowers the percentage of large law firm salaries that start at that rate:

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.