Where’s the Beef? News Breaking Story — Second-Year Associates are Overpaid

A recent article published by the Wall Street Journal Online, titled on “Second Year Associates on Track to Earn More than Chief Justice,” made an illustrative comparison between what firms pay inexperienced lawyers as compared to the highest jurist in the land. 

“It’s not even Thanksgiving, but already large firms have been announcing year-end bonuses for their staff lawyers. The bounty generally ranges from around $35,000 to $115,000 depending on the lawyer’s seniority. Add in base salary, and at several New York firms, second-year associates will make $225,000 this year. The sum eclipses the pay of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, whose annual salary is $212,100.

Even prior to the latest bonus announcements, the chief justice had vociferously argued that federal judges should earn more money, going so far as to say that low judicial pay was creating a “constitutional crisis.” (Federal trial-court judges earn $165,200.)”

Bloggers have been buzzing and commenting that the market will ultimately lure judges from the bench to private practice again and there are always plenty of lawyers willing to sit on the federal bench.  This is, indeed, true and happening, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  Retired and experienced judges are, in fact, making money hand over fist as private mediators. I am far more comfortable with seeing those lawyers paid handsomely, inasmuch as they have should have seasoning to understand the subtleties of law, business and human dynamics to warrant those high fees.  If they do not perform at high levels, those mediators will not get more work and eventually the well will run dry. 

But, in my view, there is absolutely no rational basis to pay inexperienced lawyers (or anyone) a salary of $225,000 a year.  Who’s to blame?  The law firms would not be able to afford to pay these salaries if the customer — the corporate client — refused to pay $400 or $500 an hour for lawyers with no real-world or meaningful legal experience. 

Folks can complain until the cows come home but the salaries will continue to escalate as long as the buyer of these services is willing to pay.  Where’s the beef?

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