Sunday, March 27, 2011

Law Firm Salaries: How Much Do Corporate Lawyers Really Make?

In short, the important answer to this question is: just enough to keep you chained to ur desk, but not enough to really propel us into that level swinging dick-ness that you might find at say, goldman sachs. i.e., we for the most part remain normal people with normal wants and desires, capable of finding peace at a normal job, and not, for example, transformed by our money hungriness into sex-crazed monkeys with egos bigger than mandingo's piece. but anyway, so what i really wanna talk about is perspective.

I was having dinner with my banker dingo the other day at this bar downtown, and we were talking about a mutual friend who works at STB or something, and she had done that thing where she got paid to do nothing or do charity work for 60k or something during her first year. But then she started her first real year last year, made it past december (yay!) and got her bonus, pro-rated for like 4 months (off of 7.5k) so not a whole lot. and as my buddy is talking about this and nears this more innocuous part of whatever shitty story he was actually telling, he hushes his voice to a whisper, takes some furtive glances around, and then proceeds to tell me with this horrific look on his face how little this poor girl made in her first year in terms of bonus and base. he almost fell off his chair laughing at "us". "that's so fucking puny" he cried, "man, i hope a pull in a buck this year, but i'll prolly only get six or eight hundred", he lamented as if he were the real one getting shafted, but really it's just him being a banker.  so, yes, he's been working for like five years at a bank that got fat on robbing middle america and AIG...BUT, a girl fresh out of college and law school, with NO work experience whatsoever, getting paid $160k + a lil something extra for tossing monkey dung around and spewing cow shit like a methane plant is still not bad. seriously, right? there are poor fuckers out there that work just as long hours as we do and get paid, um, 1/8th as much? there are poor fuckers out there that actually DO pick and clean shit up for a living. and they get paid a lot less too i bet. there are bums that live in their own urine-soaked clothes and eat out of garbage cans.  there are starving children in somalia.  lawyers are enveloped by a certain 'lifestyle' and constantly surrounded by other professionals like buddy banker that are basically given printing presses for cash in exchange for their integrity, humility and any semblance of super-ego; and i think this kinds of rubs off sometime - it can cloud ur vision pretty easily.  anyway, if u can manage to minimize ur time outlay carefully (e.g., not wasting time proofing ur internal emails 29 times - yes this happens), u can really make this whole coconut harvesting thing worth it i think. and that's not so bad. i can still remember in high school when $20 would last me like two months. honestly, with what we make all in, given at least how much I actually work, and the flexibility i have to do dodge work, this is not so terrible. sometimes it feels like shit, yes. and of course there is better, in terms of hours, money, lifestyle, work, but with the hand I've been dealt, not making out that bad. So, that's just some perspective.

i still can't believe that we got shafted in this whole YE / spring bonus thing though.  fucking cheap partners lining their pockets with banana chunks. I heard that STB was gonna give its first years 35K as their regular bonus this year, until they realized they could get away with 7.5K, so even with their spring bonus, the first years are still getting shafted by 20K. some pineapples for ur ass right there.

i dunno if any law students are reading this, but if there are and u r kinda curious about how much corporate lawyers actually do make in (or any lawyer actually), as i was when i was still in chump monkey training camp, here's a basic breakdown of the benjamins:

Base + Bonus + Allowances if applicable + Other Benefits

Compared to most professionals, lawyers get a lot in every category except for the bonus, which is like 10% or less of ur base. For actual numbers for individual firms you can look it up on above the law - they have a whole section dedicated to this in the career center section.  But as a starting point, here's what a typical lock-step wall st. firm will pay (recently) for the first two items above:

1st yr - 160k + 7.5k
2nd yr - 170k + 10k
3rd yr - 185k + 15k
4th yr - 210k + 20k
5th yr - 230k + 25k

This is a lot more than what (most of) our parents made. ever. so again, quit fucking whining about bonuses and bankers, u fucking greedy narcissistic prick. Note the biggest increase %-wise is between 3 and 4, if you are planning a strategic move.

Firms that have bonus levels tied to hours i'm guessing have about the same payout - except you may get zip in a slow year, but beat the market in recovery years.

In the third category is allowances - basically an expat package and some tax things if you are overseas. This varies but largely has been steadily increasing and homogenized between firms. Asia definitely has the highest expat packages; i think associates at a typical firm like the above may get 60k - 100k per year extra, which makes the total amount for a first year, in a bad year, almost a quarter of a million. In the UK and Europe, it's a bit lower than this, by about 20% or so - but varies on firms.  Some places may give u a bit extra if the local tax is higher (like about 10-15k per year - e.g., in Japan and mainland China), and some may do a sort of COLA adjustment or something tied to market real estate prices for housing.  All in though, you can generally count on basically an extra 40-50% boost in ur pay. If you aren't permanently based in another country but can finagle a stint abroad, that's also pretty good. you don't usually get a prorated package, but typically you'll get put up somewhere fancy and get some ridiculous per diem (some people i know got upwards of $150 a day for food and ALL expenses paid). now that's some prime monkey shit.

(do any of you have different packages? curious lemme know)

Being outside the US also has some other benefits, which gets us to the last category.  For one, you get a foreign income exclusion (assuming you pay US taxes) - basically you have to pay (hopefully lower) local tax rates only on the first ~100k you make.  Also, you don't have to pay your local state/city taxes.  Then there's a foreign rental deduction which various on ur country, but most 'cosmopolitan' places will let u deduct like another 100k or so.  Other benefits include business class travel on all trips (usually if you are in an a foreign office), always stay at five star hotels that you can usually pick, about $30 meal allowances for 8.5+hrs of work in a day, plus taxi/car service, home leave (again if you are in a foreign office, in better times i think some firms gave as much as $10k for a ticket wherever you wanted, now i think it's down a by a lot), tuituion subsidies for your kids, etc.  Firms usually have a lot of handy in-house services too, which are designed to help you do things normal people do themselves because they have time, but you can't because you're not supposed to - like dry cleaning or other crap.  i know one partner that uses the copy staff like his personal couriers.  i know one dude that uses his assistant as his dealer.  favorable parking rates, club memberships, gym subsidies, etc.  There are quite a lot of perks and the money is steady and good which is why, for all the fucking whining and griping that lawyers do when they get together, majority of them are still lawyers day after day.

Anyway, when i was looking for answers about how much law firm salaries really were and how much corporate lawyers made, i never could find a straight answer from people. I think people (non-lawyers) always confused how much a law firm or particular practice could generate versus how much individual lawyers make. Peons don't get a piece of the pie alright? So when you hear something like IP is a lucrative practice or corporate lawyers make so much, generally speaking if you work at a big firm you all get the same shit.

As a closing remark, while i'd say that i think lawyers shouldn't lose perspective on the cash they get, i don't necessarily think that our problem is so much a "we don't get paid enough to do this shit" problem, but more of a "why on god's green earth are there people paid to do the vacuous shit we are paid to do"?  and when you put it all together, u end up spending long hours or sleepless nights doing someone's stupid work for sometimes no good reason and don't really see where what you are doing helps society. so on one level, if you are no good at reducing ur actual hours worked, then u really are probably getting paid less than you could be in terms of a per hour take, but more importantly, on another level, no matter how much cash you grab, there's still that missing piece. some people call it "self-actualization". some call it happiness. something that money can't fill.  real question is, if u worked half as much and got paid half as much (or got paid the same) would u still be doing what u do? most of us i think r still in that realm of cash where we dont have fucked up personalities or narcissism complexes, can mentally take a significant pay cut and do that thing that u actually enjoy doing.


  1. Just want to pass on some quick props. This blog is incredible. I'm happy to know I'm not the only one really gaming the BigLaw system and keeping a handle on reality. To be "that guy," today, 50,000 people will die in the world of hunger. Another 50k tomorrow and so on. Let's keep some freaking perspective fellow lawyers.

    Keep up the work good sir, and if you find yourself in Chicago, the first several rounds are on me.

    (sorry if this posts twice)

  2. Why are there so few comments on this blog?

  3. WINNING - thx mate, will take u up on ur offer next time im in chicago-

    Anonymous - dunno, but chime in if u have any thoughts

  4. now in academiaMarch 31, 2011

    Maybe it's just because it's so new and not many people have found it yet? I love reading your entries, so i hope you don't take the lack of comments for a lack of interest. I've mentioned the site to a few law students i know here in NYC and I reckon the comments section is going to get a lot busier soon.

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  6. I'm not a lawyer but I really enjoyed reading your blog. Your writing style is a good blend between informative and funny. Keep up the good work.

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