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September 17, 2007

What Do New Lawyers Earn?

It's the eternal question.  Hat tip to Law Student.tv for bringing us the NALP report showing salaries from 1992 to 2006 from firms of 2-10 up to 500+ with salaries ranging from $50,000 to $135,000.

Of course, noticeably absent are statistics for solos.  So I bring you back to What Do Solos REALLY Earn? as to why it is simply an elusive and widely varying number totally self-directed and created.

What would be an interesting statistic is the ratio of salary to debt service for law school.  And here it is:

Finding:
Median salaries have doubled for graduates accepting jobs in private practice in the past 15 years.

Context: Are law graduates "worth" these salaries? Is the "greedy associate" appellation fitting? Consider the way several points of data intersect - tuition and fees, student debt, starting salaries, and cost of living - to get a comprehensive picture of the financial impact of law school attendance. For instance, ABA statistics show substantial increases in median tuition and fees to law schools in the past 15 years. In 1992, average tuition/fees at public law schools totaled $4,015 for residents and $18,146 for non-residents (i.e., out-of-state students). By 2006, those figures had risen to $14,245 and $25,227 respectively - cumulative increases of 149% for residents and 121% for non-residents. At private law schools, average tuition/fees in 1992 totaled $13,730. By 2006 that had risen 86% to $30,520. (See www.ABAnet.org/legaled/statistics.) In other words, the costs of a legal education have risen substantially faster than salaries, and these costs are an important factor in understanding the bigger picture of our current market.

As reported at the NALP/Access Group Law School Debt Symposia earlier this year, the average amount borrowed for law school is currently over $80,000 for private law school students and over $54,000 for public law school students.

So, in the past 15 years, with the exception of those in firms of 500+, the cost of education has outpaced salaries.  Is it any wonder students are scared, nervous, anxious and depressed when they get out and can't get the 'advertised' high ticket jobs...yet are not shown alternatives?

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» Lawyer Salary Increases Compared to Law Student Debt from Law Student .tv (formerly Top Law Student)
After Law Student posted How Much are New Lawyers’ Salaries?, the author of the Build A Solo Practice blog responded with this observation: What would be an interesting statistic is the ratio of salary to debt service for law school. She then present... [Read More]

» How Much Do Solo Practice Lawyers Earn? from Law Student .tv (formerly Top Law Student)
When Law Student posted How Much are New Lawyers’ Salaries?, the author of the Build A Solo Practice blog pointed out that the chart failed to present salary statistics for solo practitioners (attorneys practicing on their own rather than part of a m... [Read More]

Comments

Kevin D.

This post is spot on. When I was in law school (a short year and a half ago) the anxiety was palpable among those of us who weren't the very select few that were being courted by the silk-stocking firms.

I am willing to wager that most of us took jobs that may not have been what we wanted to do because we knew that the student loans were going to have be to repaid starting in November.

It is sad that so many of us felt that was the only path. It is even more sad that almost every classmate I speak with is dissatisfied with their job and is looking for a way out.

Three years and $100,000 is a lot of time and money to wind up so unhappy at the end.

Eric Hutchins

Your post is spot-on, Susan. For whatever it's worth, the NALP survey doesn't reflect the BigLaw salary bump from this past spring, which very likely elevates the majority of those associates on the $135,000/yr part of the graph to $160,000/yr. Of course, the minimum hours and billable rates undoubtedly rose along with the salaries at the vast majority of those firms, impacting the work-life balance that draws BigLaw associates towards in-house or solo positions.

Your post captures the reality of the profession for recent graduates, and law school deans and faculty ought to be ashamed of themselves for the dearth of courses geared towards the unique needs of solo and small-office practice. The expectation -- or willful blindness -- that all law grads will want and attain BigLaw positions is nothing less than a dereliction of their duties as educators.

Joe A

Long time listener, first time caller. This blog is the first thing I check in the morning and the last thing I check in the evening. It is always spot on. Coming from Utah, I was lucky enough to go to a third tier law school and then transfer to a first tier school. I thought the third tier was a better training ground for real life practice with the clinic work and teacher access. The first tier had more of an "ivory tower" feel. Both were hugely expensive, which they did not really address. It was always - "Don't worry, you can defer payment or forebear if you have to."

Both institutions only paid lip service to what you would actually owe coming out of law school. I think $100,000 is right on for law school. But it is too bad because there are things I like to do, but can't afford to do them; and thinks I have to do to pay the bills.

This website is a boon to the legal community across the country. I think the question should be not how much they make, but how much they owe. Students loans, paid from net income, really begin to hinder your choices. I agree with the other posters that if polled, most legal professionals would feel the same way.

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