NALP just announced that the median salary for first year associates in Big Law has dropped from $160K to $145K. . . . We are now back to to the entry level price point of 2007. . . . In 2011, firms of 500+ attorneys hired 2,856 entry level lawyers. In 2007, that figure was 4,745. So, after five years, Big Law is paying the same wage but hiring 40% few lawyers.
From here (note that the definition of Big Law used for salaries in the quote is broader than firms with 250+ attorneys, not 500+ attorneys). The higest salary (75th percentile) for new graduates in the the biggest law firms was $160,000, which about 3,000 new graduates in the sample (about 6%) earned.
There were 44,495 in the graduating law school class of 2011. NALP has data on 43,001 of them, including virtually complete data on big law firm hiring. About 62% of those graduates were hired at full time jobs that required passage of the bar exam (just under half of all employed new graduates worked for law firms), while about 10% were unemployed and seeking employment. Part-time jobs were most common for new graduates in academic, public interest and non-legal business positions.
As usual, the salary distribution was bimodal with one high peak for Big Law hires and one low peak for everyone else.
The median salary for new law school graduates finding full time jobs as lawyers in private private was $85,000. In government, the median salary was $52,000, a bit more than the median pay of $50,000 for graduates hired to be lawyers by small law firms with two to ten lawyers in all (who make up 43% of private practice law firm hires). For all graduates finding jobs at lawyers, it was $61,500. A quarter of graduates hired to be lawyers earned less than $50,000 a year as lawyers. Across the board, those law school graduates hired for jobs that did not require them to be lawyers made less than those hired to be lawyers.