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Law firms have bumped up starting salaries for associates at top firms over the past few years, prompting Big Law clients to raise a stink about outsized salaries for junior lawyers. But it turns out that this pay—increased to $190,000 this year for lawyers fresh out of law school in big markets such as New York—falls short of past peaks when inflation is taken into account.

Adjusting for inflation with the U.S. Labor Department’s consumer price index calculator, even the recent hikes leave today’s first-year associates with a lower starting salary than their counterparts who entered the industry just before the global recession, according to an ALM analysis of pay data drawn from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).

An examination of the prevailing first-year associate salaries over the past 20 years, using New York as a stand-in for the legal industry’s top-paying markets, showed that the buying power of an associate’s pay peaked in 2007. That year, top firms raised starting salaries for first-year associates to $160,000 from the 2006 rate of $145,000, while before that, first-year starting pay had remained at $125,000 for several years, according to NALP. The $160,000 starting figure then remained steady for nearly a decade—until a 2016 increase to $180,000.

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Scott Flaherty

Scott Flaherty, based in New York, covers the business of law with a focus on legal ethics, lawyer misconduct, conflicts-of-interest and litigation involving law firms. He can be reached at [email protected] On Twitter: @sflaherty18

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