Big Law: Wage Caps, the New Wage Gap

The New Wage Gap

Changing compensation, what you should consider?

Becoming an attorney takes years, thousands of dollars, and a lot of stress. Every one of your colleagues has gone through that struggle, passed the bar and are applying at the same firms that you are. But not everyone is equal. They didn’t attend the same universities or get the same grades in their classes, so should you be paid the same amount for your effort?

How should associates be compensated? Most of Big Law is paying associates in lockstep compensation. Some of the largest firms, including Cravath, Swain & Moore, have increased starting salaries at $180k in the first year and increasing to $350K in the eighth year. These salaries are solely based upon graduation year and do not take into account merit. This does not mean, however bonuses are not available based on hard work and success.

Cooley and Associates has begun to break away from the lockstep compensation model, compensating top talent lawyers competitively and exceeding the pay scales set from the lockstep model. Cooley and Associates, “success in our profession is wholly dependent upon attracting and retaining the best and brightest attorneys.”

It’s damn competitive out there and it’s not going to get any easier, and yet most millennials share a common belief that they must achieve balance in their personal and professional careers. And law firms are becoming more open to the fact that when attorneys take paid time off, “they really want to unplug,” said Lacy Durham, the chair of the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division. In order to retain the best, firms are offering some perks like time off and a flexible work model in lieu of big bonuses.

In order to earn appropriate compensation, you will need to know if earning your salary based on a scale or merit based compensation will be better for you. Working with a reliable and knowledgeable legal recruiter will allow you to land a position at the firm that you both belong with and will compensate you appropriately to your knowledge and skill level.

About On Balance Search Consultants
On Balance offers great insight and industry intelligence. Shari Davidson, president of On Balance Search Consultants, advises law firms on how to take a firm to the next level and helps rising talent make the transition to the right law firm. We pride ourselves in understanding our clients and candidate’s needs, On Balance has an outstanding track record placing strong candidates with high retention rates.

Contact us today. Call 516.731.4300 or visit our website at

Please note that the content of this blog does not constitute legal advice and is only intended for the educational purpose of the reader. Please consult your legal counsel for specifics regarding your specific circumstances and the laws in your states pertaining to social media, legal recruiting and any legal restrictions regarding the law.


Lat, D. (2016, June 6). Breaking: NY To $180K!!! Cravath Raises Associate Base Salaries!!! Retrieved July 9, 2016, from

Lat, D. (2016, January 28). Associate Bonus Watch: ‘Very Satisfying’ Bonuses — Plus A Pay Scale Overhaul. Retrieved July 10, 2016, from

Lockstep Compensation. (n.d.). Retrieved July 10, 2016, from

Rubino, K. (June 18, 2016). Biglaw Firm Bumps Salary To Attract And Retain The ‘Best And Brightest Attorneys’. Above the Law.

Zaretsky, S. (2016, June 13). The Final Countdown: Which Firms Have Raised Salaries? Retrieved July 9, 2016, from Bonus Alert

Wolf, A. (September 17, 2015). 4 Ways Millennials Are Changing BigLaw. Law360.

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