Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

First-Year Salaries at Big Law Firms Top $150,000

As big law firms rack up record revenues, they’re passing the good fortune along to their newest associates.

The median salary for first-year associates reached $155,000 in January 2019 – an increase of $20,000 from 2017, according to the 2019 Associate Salary Survey Report from the National Association for Law Placement. Many firms reported starting salaries of $190,000 or more.

The highest first-year base salaries were reported in the Northeast and South ($165,000), followed by the West ($160,000), with the lowest in the Midwest ($120,000).

The survey results are heavily skewed towards larger firms. Seventy percent of the firms surveyed have 250 or more lawyers. Even in those firms, first-year salaries vary.

“There are in fact many large law firm offices that are not paying $190,000 as a base first-year salary,” said NALP executive director James Leipold in this press release. “These hikes often take two or more years to move through the market.”

The survey is available for purchase here. Read an ABA Journal article on the salary survey here.

2019 Associate Salary Survey Report

Here are some findings from the salary survey:

  • The greatest salary growth occurred in firm sizes of 701+ lawyers, where median first-year base salaries increased $25,000 from $155,000 in 2017 to $180,000 in 2019 (16.1 percent increase).
  • Modest growth occurred in firm sizes of 251-500 lawyers, with median first-year base salaries moving from $150,000 in 2017 to $160,000 in 2019 (6.7 percent increase).
  • Salaries were relatively flat at firm sizes of 51-100 lawyers ($115,000), 101-250 lawyers ($115,000), and 501-700 lawyers ($160,000).
  • Many large firms announced $190,000 first-year salaries in 2018, but not enough to push the median up to that level. However, $190,000 was the modal, or most frequently occurring, first-year base salary reported, accounting for 29.3 percent of all reports.
  • Offices paying $190,000 are concentrated mostly within a few cities (Dallas, the Los Angeles/Orange County area, New York City, and the Washington, DC area).
  • As law firms grow through acquisition and merger, they take on marked differences. There are global firms, and then there are other firms with more than 700 lawyers that are comprised of smaller regional offices. Many of these smaller offices do not pay the new benchmark first-year salary of $190,000, according to the survey.


Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Today he helps lawyers and firms succeed through marketing, work-life balance and reclaiming passion for what they do. He is available for consultations, retreats and presentations ( Contact or 919-619-2441 to learn how Jay can help your practice.


About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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