Of the 22,305 law school graduates, a remarkable 23% (5,130 members of the class of 2008) reported an entry-level salary of $160,000. In contrast, 42% of entry level lawyers reported salaries in the $40,000 to $65,000 range. Once again, the central tendencies are a poor guide to the distribution as a whole: whereas the mean salary is a $92,000, the median salary was $72,000. Further, the two modes ($50,000 and $160,000) are separated by $110,000.
The bimodal distribution of income from law firms was not in place in 1996, but was obvious in every year from 2000 onward. When I graduated from law school, the going rate paid by big firms for entry level associates was about $80,000 a year in New York City, and varied elsewhere mostly according to the cost of living in the city in question.
The large law firms that drive these salaries are themselves an evolving beast. In the early 1960s, 73% of all lawyers in Detroit who worked in law firms at all graduated from one of five elite law schools, everyone else conducted solo practices.