When upper-echelon law firms raised their starting pay for first-year associates this spring to $190,000, the soaring salary hit a record for the industry. Right? Are new associates really making more, or are firms simply keeping pace with inflation? What exactly is behind the upward trend?

A New York Times article from April 18, 1986, reports that the venerable Cravath, Swaine & Moore, often the firm that leads on giving rookie raises, paid salaries of $65,000 for fresh blood. (That was a new high at the time, and it came as the result of a $12,000 increase from $53,000.) Adjusted for inflation, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics’ online calculator, that $65,000 in 1986 dollars comes to $150,582.14 in 2018 dollars. Vice-versa, a salary of $190,000 in 2018 is like a salary in 1986 of $82,015.04.

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