Thursday, October 21, 2010

What do practitioners in "small" firms make?

If you're not teaching at a T-20 school, most of your students who go into private practice will work for small law firms (that certainly becomes more true as one moves down the USNWR rankings - I'm not expressing any opinion about the validity or value of the rankings, but that does seem to be the reality like it or not).  So what do those attorneys make?   There are a couple of online sources you can check like the Bureau of Labor Statistics (scroll down the page),,  or the NALP bimodal 2009 starting salary graph.

You can now add to the data the results of this informal survey conducted by Above the Law which polled private, small firm practitioners (defined as those working for firms with less than 50 lawyers which would still be considered BigLaw in a lot of cities) to find out what they make.  There are a lot of qualifications and explanations that you need to read (such as the editors tossing out high-salaried outliers, etc.) but here's the bottom line of what they found:

The aggregate numbers (chart below) are encouraging for aspiring small firm lawyers, with an average salary of $108,000 and a median of $82,000. The highest reported salary was $4 million, which I assume was a fictitious response, an assumption I base mostly on the practice description (“everywhere global”) and the open-ended response (“show me some results please time is money”). It, along with four other responses of $500k and higher, were the clear outliers.

The booby prize goes to the poor first-year making a mere $24,000.

Even if we take out the five outliers (those in the $500k+ category), the overall average only drops to about $95,000, which is still pretty good in my opinion. It’s also more than I was making as a fourth-year associate in my former life.

If we dig a bit deeper, however, the numbers get a bit less enticing.

Sixty percent of all the salaries reported are under six figures. Of those, the average was a paralegal-esque $67,000, which is still more than I make disheartening if you’re still towing a student loan anchor.
. . . .
As you might have expected, the salaries in less populous areas (0 – 250,000 residents) skew toward the lower end. As one moves into larger populated areas, the salaries show upward movement, with the big cities having their concentration of salaries in the $50,000 to $150,000.

You can read the rest here, complete with lots of charts and graphs.


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