Bloomberg Law
Free Newsletter Sign Up
Bloomberg Law
Free Newsletter Sign Up

Law Firm Associate Signing Bonuses Take a Dive, Recruiter Finds

Nov. 6, 2018, 11:20 PM

Average signing bonuses for law firm associates have dropped by $10,000 since 2017 partly because salaries have gone up and women are getting less, according to client data compiled by a legal staffing and recruiting company.

The average signing bonus this year so far is about $17,000 with the highest paid by a Special Counsel client coming in at $60,000 compared to a record $90,000 last year.

Some 126 attorneys who were Special Counsel clients received bonuses ranging from $3,000-$60,000, according to data provided by the company through Oct. 18.

Those included 84 who received signing bonuses as opposed to smaller relocation or other one-time incentives.

The vast majority of those receiving signing bonuses were law firm associates. The others were in-house attorneys or law firm counsel or partners.

The data also revealed a bonus gender gap. Men made up just over half, 44, of bonus recipients and their payouts were about $12,500, more than $2,000 higher than the amount for women.

The “largest driver” for drop in average signing bonuses for associates is the increase in their salaries that took effect at many firms this summer, said Amanda Ellis, a firm senior vice president.

Another factor, she said, is that an increasing number of firm recruiters are foregoing signing bonuses for mid-year hires by instead promising that the attorneys would be paid end-of-year bonuses at full-year scales.

Special Counsel has placed 617 attorneys so far this year, said Ellis, a firm senior vice president.

Other findings:

  • About half of the 126 attorneys who received signing bonuses were hired by the top 200 law firms nationally by revenue.
  • Special Counsel looked at placement data from 33 different office locations.
  • Thirteen attorneys placed in Washington received signing bonuses, more than those from other cities.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at