New lawyers see salary decline

Not to dampen the spirits of newly graduated law students as this group enjoys their first summer post graduation, but salaries for first-year associates are dropping at a noticeable rate.

According to a National Association of Law Placement report released Wednesday, the median salary for the class of 2010 for full-time jobs as of February was $63,000 — $9,000 less than the class of 2009 median. The average salary for the class of 2010 also dropped from $93,454 to $84,111.

Most attorneys know where they'll be employed before graduation day, so this news isn't all that new to those who've just received their juris doctorate degrees and have begun work. But the news means less money down the road since the number from which pay increases are based is now lower.

One positive aspect, however, of the NALP report, according to the group's Executive Director James Leipold, is that the numbers need some clarification to be fully understood.

"It's not that employers were paying less," said Leipold. "It's that fewer recent grads were finding work at the large firms that pay the highest salaries."

Unfortunately, the law of supply and demand applies to legal salaries as it does elsewhere. So lower wages paid at the top of the legal food chain or fewer positions being available at upper-tier firms will translate to lower salaries in other places. The more top-rated attorneys you have seeking fewer positions, the less salary is needed to attract and hire them.