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August 03, 2011 Practice Points

Starting Salaries for Law School Grads Fall as More Take Jobs with Small Firms

By Cindy Albracht-Crogan

The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) recently completed its employment study related to 2010 law school graduates. The research reveals that the aggregate starting private practice salaries fell 20 percent for 2010 law school graduates. But, as explained by NALP Executive Director James Leipold, the drop is due primarily to graduates taking a larger percentage of jobs with small law firms.

    This downward shift in starting salaries is not, for the most part, because individual legal employers were paying new graduates less than they paid them in the past. . . . Aggregate starting salaries fell because graduates found few jobs with the high-paying large law firms and many more jobs with the smallest law firms.

Indeed, 53 percent of the law firm jobs taken by the class of 2010 were in firms of 50 or fewer attorneys, compared with 46 percent for the class of 2009. The proportion of jobs in firms of more than 250 attorneys decreased from 33 percent for the class of 2009 to 26 percent for the class of 2010.

Leipold stated that it was "significant" that more graduates were establishing themselves as solo practitioners right out of law school and were satisfied with their career choice. Fewer sole practitioners are reporting that they are seeking another job nine months after graduation. As a result, Leipold stated that entrepreneurial skills may be more valuable to law school graduates as a solo practice "becomes the norm for a larger percentage" of graduates.

The full study contains information regarding the average starting salaries for 2010 graduates as well as demographic information.

Cindy Albracht-Crogan is with Cohen, Kennedy, Dowd & Quigley in Phoenix, Arizona.

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