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The Truth About the Starting Salaries of Big Law Associates

Updated: Feb 7

With starting salaries of $225,000 and bonuses north of $100,000, it's time to assess and question the value of the ridiculously vaulted compensation of Big Law associates.


Back in December, Above the Law revealed that at least 77 Big Law firms had matched or exceeded the $225,000 new Associate starting salary – a standard seemingly first set by Milbank. This would be less of an issue if the same firms didn’t try to blame yet another hefty rate increase on the “increasing costs of talent.”


Forgive me if this sounds naïve, but I don’t think firms can rightly announce lavish compensation packages and then pass the costs of those packages onto their clients post factum. However, since they want to play this game, let’s actually take a look at the comparative value of these highly compensated Associates.


As part of our Outside Counsel Management services, Out-House Attorneys negotiates hourly rates and matter AFAs with just about every major law firm in the world. First year Associates at Big Law are starting 2024 with rates ranging between $590 and $850 per hour.


That’s $590-$850 per hour for someone who:

  • Was likely in college just 12 months ago;

  • Doesn’t know what ‘track changes’ is;

  • Is wholly reliant on templates and existing work product; and

  • Doesn’t know the first thing about actually navigating (or weaponzing) civil procedure.

Do you know what most first-year Associates really are? Trainees.


However, although only a fraction of their billable time will actually make it to an invoice, their vaulted hourly rates ensure that the firm is never out of pocket. This allows the firms to see immediate returns on their compensation investment while they train these recent graduates into functioning legal professionals.


Will these Associates one day be the ones performing valuable, substantive legal work? Absolutely! And when that day comes, clients can expect to pay $1,000-$2,000 per hour for their time and expertise.


Until then, however, what clients are really paying for is the Associates’ training – which is of little (if any) present value to the client – and certainly not with $595-$850 per hour.


So, what should clients do?


Start saying, “No.”


‘No’, I’m not accepting yet another hefty rate increase.


‘No’, I won’t pay hundreds of dollars an hour for someone who doesn’t know how to use an office printer.


‘No’, I don’t accept that the firm has to offer insane compensation packages to attract “talent.”


It sometimes only takes an email to get the desired result. Sometimes it takes a call. For the largest firms, it can take several calls with personnel of escalating degrees of authority and months of respectfully holding the line without blinking (not everyone can do this – I call this a Monday).


However, when Big Law gives notice of their rates for the new year, it’s an offer – and even a first year Associate can tell you that you don’t have to accept an offer.


Out-House Attorneys has saved its clients billions of dollars in legal spend through its Legal Ops & Special Projects service – which includes Outside Counsel Management and fee negotiation. Contact us today to join the growing list of Fortune 100 companies that rely on us to negotiate their hourly and matter fees with the world’s largest law firms.


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