Top First Year Law Associate Salaries

Some of you may already have a job lined up, but many more of you will begin your search once you’ve passed the bar exam. However much we’d like to deny it, money is a big motivating factor in life. It’s true that money can’t buy you everything. But it sure can make a lot of life more comfortable, especially if you are leaving law school with debts of $100,000 or more.

I thought I could help you out by making your search a little easier. I’ve compiled a list of the top-paying law firms by starting salary.

Factors Affecting a Law Associate’s First Year Salary

While a respected law degree is the first step to earning well, other factors such as specialty, region, the law firm itself, and even the specific industry all play a big role. For example, some of the top-paying industries for law include specialized design services, computer and IT, motion picture industries, and navigational manufacturing. These industries pay upwards of $200,000 per year.

Other factors, such as sector, can also play a role, and it can mean that salaries may vary widely. Public-sector law jobs, for instance, can range from $53,000 to $71,000 per year, while private-sector firms can pay between $45,000 to $180,000 per year. Sometimes this can also depend on the culture of the individual firm and how many employees it has.

In general, lawyers entering the public sector tend to receive lower starting salaries, so as you’ll see on the list below, it is often better to aim for big or private firms if you want to hit that lucrative mark right off the bat. One thing to bear in mind though is that big law firms base a person’s salary on their law school class, which means they compete with other firms to attract the best students.

On that note, let’s take a moment from your finals-studying life to check out some very lucrative firms that pay their associates the big bucks.

  1. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz This is a small New York firm that still operates out of a single Manhattan office. All the founders, except for Katz, still work in the office-Wachtell and Lipton as partners, and Rosen as Of Counsel. Their first-year associates are given a starting salary of $165,000, in addition to a whopping bonus that ranges from 50-100% of their entire salary.
  2. Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP Cravath has been a preeminent firm for almost 200 years. This firm only operates out of two offices and keeps the numbers of lawyers it hires low. The firm is known for its conviction of promoting partners from within, rarely ever hiring lateral partners. Starting salary at Cravath is $160,000.
  3. Sullivan & Cromwell LLP This firm has been ranked in AmLaw 100 since the inception of the rankings. It is well known as an ‘old-timer’ powerhouse among associates and clients. Starting salary at Sullivan is $160,000.
  4. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meager & Flom LLP and Affiliates Skadden is one of the most profitable law firms in the nation. It was the first law firm to ever reach $1 billion in annual revenue. Skadden’s starting salary is $160,000.
  5. Davis Polk & Wardwell This firm was founded in New York City over 160 years ago. It specializes in finance, having departments in capital markets, M&A, bankruptcy, and taxes. Its starting salary is $160,000.
  6. Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP Weil is known as the top bankruptcy firm in the nation. It was founded in New York in 1931 and now overlooks Central Park from its Fifth Avenue office. Over half of its 21 offices are based overseas. Starting salary is $160,000.
  7. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP The founders, Simpson, Thacher, and Bartlett, are all Columbia Law School graduates. The firm was founded in 1884. The firm’s starting salary is $160,000.
  8. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP Cleary Gottlieb is an integrated global partnership. The firm’s first international office opened in 1949. Cleary Gottlieb has awarded its foreign lawyers equal partnership in the firm, gaining a strong advantage in its international presence. The starting salary is $160,000.
  9. Kirkland & Ellis LLP Kirkland has a history of defending newspapers in significant free speech and libel cases, so much so that the University of Chicago actually named its moot courtroom after Kirkland. The starting salary at Kirkland is $160,000.
  10. Latham & Watkins LLP Latham is one of the world’s largest firms. It has over 30 offices around the world. Founding partner Dana Latham was a former commissioner of the IRS. Starting salary at Latham is $160,000.

Get the First Year Law Associate’s Salary You Deserve

Soon you will embark on your bar exam prep and finish the long path towards becoming an attorney. The above firms are some of the most prestigious and powerful institutions in the nation. If you do want to work at one of these law firms, then I wish you the best of luck. But remember, there are hundreds of amazing firms that are changing the world day by day.

Try to think on Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s words: “Making money isn’t hard in itself; what’s hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting one’s life to.”

Happy Studying!