Wilmington Boasts High Starting Salaries for Lawyers

Original article from DelawareOnline.com by Jessica Masulli Reyes

Salaries are on the rise for the handful of first-year lawyers hired by Wilmington’s largest firms.

Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell raised its pay last year to $160,000 for new associates. Others have followed, including McCarter & English, which announced last week that it would bump starting salaries to $150,000 to attract young talent and compete with firms in larger cities.

“We have to balance attracting top talent to the firm and trying to continue to make sure costs to clients are appropriately set,” said David White, office managing partner at McCarter & English’s Wilmington office. “It’s always that balancing.”

Screenshot from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
Screenshot from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

The National Association for Law Placement, which collects salary data from law firms, said about half of those who graduated law school in the Class of 2015 made under $64,800 their first year. This is down 13 percent from $72,000 in 2008.

Surveying the competition

Starting salaries at the industry’s most elite law firms in cities like Manhattan, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles may not be representative of what most new attorneys will make, but they are watched closely as an indicator of a firm’s success.

In early June, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, a top Manhattan firm, said it would increase first-year salaries by $20,000 to $180,000 per year. These announcements usually prompt a flurry of other firms doing the same and have become more frequent following years of stagnation after the recession.

While these New York-style salaries have not made it to Wilmington, Delaware’s largest city follows close behind, with some firms paying $160,000. These firms are at the center of Wilmington’s legal communities, in which high-profile mergers and acquisition cases are heard in the Delaware Court of Chancery and complex commercial disputes reign in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.

McCarter & English, a firm with 400 lawyers in nine offices, one of which is in Wilmington, announced last week it would increase its starting salary for first-year lawyers who graduated in 2016 from $135,000 to $150,000 as of Jan. 1.

McCarter & English associates who graduated from law school in 2015 will make $155,000. Other associates will continue to be considered for merit-based increases or bonuses, the firm said.

White said the increases were based on surveys of competitors’ salaries in each of the cities in which McCarter & English operates.

“We thought it was probably a good idea in order to meet those needs to try to increase the first-year salaries for associates,” White said. “We think it will work.”

White said young lawyers should be attracted to Delaware because of the culture of the Delaware bar and bench. Wilmington was ranked seventh for the best cities for attorneys in a 2015 study by the consumer-data research firm ValuePenguin.


feature image: iStockPhoto/BrianAJackson

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