US firms compete to offer associates top dollar

After Milbank announced its intent to up its salary scale, Davis Polk sweetened the pot

US firms compete to offer associates top dollar

Two US firms are competing to offer the highest pay to associates – and other firms are following the lead.

New York-headquartered firm Milbank announced earlier this month that it would be increasing its salary scale for associates; first-year class associates would receive US$200,000, while experienced ones would get US$355,000, according to the American Bar Association Journal.

The new scale represents an increase in pay of US$10,000 for less seasoned associates and of US$25,000 for other associates.

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Shortly after the announcement, however, rival firm Davis Polk & Wardwell (Davis Polk) sweetened the pot, announcing that it would up associates’ pay to US$202,500 for the first-year class and US$365,000 for the most senior associates. As per, this represents an increase of US$12,500-US$15,000 for new associates, US$20,000 for mid-level ones and US$25,000 for highly experienced associates since 2018.

As per Above the Law, several firms have since followed Davis Polk’s lead, including Baker McKenzie, Proskauer Rose, Lowenstein Sandler, Dechert, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian. In particular, Lowenstein Sandler intends to match Davis Polk’s offer to the 2020 class of associates, while adjusting for the other classes.

McDermott, Will & Emery was initially set to follow Milbank’s standard, but has since said that it will instead adopt Davis Polk’s salary scale, reported.

The Journal pointed out that this year, many firms are issuing special bonuses valued at US$12,000-US$64,000 depending on class year – a bar set by Davis Polk. In 2020, the usual range for year-end bonuses was US$15,000-US$100,000.

According to, Davis Polk’s associate pay scale ups the ante for Am Law 100 firms, who will have to analyse earnings this year to determine whether they will be able to match the uptick.

In 2018, Milbank was the first US firm to announce salary scale increases for associates, according to the Journal.

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