Mar 30
business workers chasing hand full of money

Why News About Associate Salaries at Am Law 100 Firms Are A Distraction

News about pay increases for associates at Am Law 100 firms have been dominating headlines since the start of this year. While it sounds like an enticing factor for attorneys looking for new career opportunities, this so-called “salary war” may not be as consequential as many lawyers think. 

A recent article that appeared in the American Bar Association Journal compares salaries amongst three New York-based firms: Milbank, Cravath, and Davis Polk. 

Milbank started the trend back in January by offering an associate pay scale ranging from $215K to $385K. Cravath had led the market with a scale of $215K to $415K, and soon after Davis Polk announced it would match the Cravath scale.  

The differences in compensation between these firms border on the trial. For example, for the class of 2018 there is $10K difference out of $295K. If the marginal tax rate is 50 percent, that is the rough equivalent pf $5K a year or about $100 a week.  

Media buzz over stories like these feed into a narrative that these jobs are somehow bigger or better for your career, which is not always true. There are certain practice areas, such as antitrust where it is difficult to get experience outside of BigLaw. But that is less true of business litigation. Moreover, there is a real risk that you will work crazy long hours, not develop a well-rounded skill set, and find it extremely hard to bring in clients. Most lawyers would do well to ignore stories about salary wars for associates and instead focus on becoming better lawyers, managers, and rainmakers.