Cooley Godward Salary Thaw, and is there a Market Rate Anymore?
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Cooley Godward has lifted last year’s salary freeze, sort of. First years will continue to make $160k, which puts them ahead of firms that have cut first year salaries, second years move up to $165k and third years jump up to $170k. This isn’t a true up, but Cooley third years are once again earning more than the class below them.

Two years ago, biglaw salaries were pretty much the same across the board, so salary wasn’t typically a factor in choosing where to work. Now things are a bit messier. Among the firms sticking with lockstep compensation, some have cut salaries, some have cut salaries outside of major markets, some have frozen salaries, some have thawed salaries, and some have thawed salaries with a “true up”. And as difficult as that can be to sort out, the situation gets far more complicated when looking at the firms that have moved to merit based compensation plans. Most, but not all, have adopted a three tier system, and most of those have two levels within each tier. Some have cut base pay with the promise of potential greater earnings, some have not. Some are holding back a percentage of pay to be released upon hitting certain milestones.

All of this means that there is no longer a “market rate” for associate compensation. That may not matter much this year, since new graduates aren’t likely to be quite as picky about where they work so long as they have a job, but as the economy improves, these variances in salary are going to be one of the factors attorneys evaluate in choosing a firm. Will we see a return to a standardized salary across the board, and if so, which plan will win out?




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