In the quarter-century since The American Lawyer began tracking the nation’s 100 largest law firms, total gross revenue for that cohort has multiplied more than tenfold, from $7 billion to $71 billion. In nominal terms the average Am Law 100 PPP has more than quadrupled, from $324,500 to about $1.4 million. Providing fodder to those who see a widening class divide, the average Am Law 100 partner earned 11.3 times the average American employee’s compensation in 1986, and 23.4 times that benchmark in 2010, the last year for which data is available.
Much has changed in the surrounding culture since The Am Law 100 was introduced, but when our story begins, the basic dynamics of the law firm business were already in place. In 1986 (our financial base year), L.A. Law went on the air, and Cravath, Swaine & Moore raised starting salaries from $53,000 to $65,000. In 1987 (when the Am Law 100 survey was first published), Scott Turow wrote Presumed Innocent, and Baker & McKenzie was nearing the 1,000-lawyer mark. The top firms were big and rich, and rapidly getting bigger and richer. A twenty-fifth anniversary look at where The Am Law 100 started, where it is today, and what happened along the way.
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