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Wake Up Call: Associate Pay Gains Show Strong Legal Market

April 15, 2021, 12:25 PM

In today’s column, strong demand for bankruptcy and other pandemic-related advice powered profit gains at Arnold & Porter in 2020; three more firms matched the Davis Polk scale for associate bonuses and one added extra money for big billers; dealmakers are optimistic about the M&A market this year, but worried about tax hikes, a survey finds.

  • Leading off, despite last year’s pandemic austerity measures, median base salaries for first-year associates at large law firms increased 6.5% overall in 2020 to reach $165,000, while the typical starting pay at most big firms was $190,000, according to new data from the National Association for Law Placement. NALP’s executive director, James G. Leipold, said in a statement that the new data reflect the “continued strength of the legal sector despite a difficult year.” ( Meanwhile, a London Times report says that recent data show that, although the pandemic caused pain for many people in the U.K., it has “hardly touched” the revenues of law firms. (The Times)
  • Three more firms on Wednesday matched the Davis Polk scale for associate bonuses, which is paid in two installments and goes up to $64,000, in total, depending on year of seniority. Many of the dozens of firms that have matched the scale to date attach billable-hour requirements to get the money. Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan’s scale requires 2,100 billed hours to get the full market bonus, while associates billing over 2,200 hours can get up to $16,000 more than market rate, depending on their year. Foley & Lardner and Perkins Coie also announced they’re matching the Davis Polk scale. Perkins Coie’s bonuses vary by office location, according to reports. (Above the Law) (American Lawyer)
  • A new M&A survey report from Dykema finds dealmakers optimistic about this year’s market but concerned about the possibility of a corporate tax hike. (
  • Older New York state judges who were booted in pandemic budget cuts last year can apply to get their jobs back, because the state has enough money after all, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said. (New York Law Journal)
  • President Joe Biden nominated Latham & Watkins partner Tommy Beaudreau to be deputy secretary of the Interior Department, after senators from oil-producing states had objected to his first choice for the job. (WaPo) Acting U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar earned $2.03 million as a litigation partner at Cooley in 2020 advising major technology and social media clients, according a report based on a mandatory disclosure. (National Law Journal)

Lawyers, Law Firms

  • Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer’s gross revenues reached $961.9 million in 2020, up 1.1% from 2019, while its profits per equity partner jumped 11.7% to around $1.35 million. The firm said pandemic-related court delays hit its litigation and transactional work, but it had strong demand for bankruptcy, life sciences, antitrust, and other practices. (National Law Journal)
  • A lawsuit accuses Venable and a former partner in the firm’s Los Angeles office of fraud linked to their work for a client who was convicted in an $11 million Facebook investment scheme. (Legal Intelligencer)
  • Fenwick & West advised Coinbase Global, Inc., the biggest U.S. cryptocurrency exchange, as it went public Wednesday on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the ticker symbol “COIN.” Latham & Watkins represented financial advisers to Coinbase, which made several recent legal hires in the run-up to its IPO. (Bloomberg News via BLAW)

Laterals, Moves, In-House

  • Walmart’s executive vice president, global chief ethics & compliance officer Daniel Trujillo, is leaving, the Journal reported. According to his LinkedIn profile, he’s been an in-house lawyer at various companies since the 1990s. No word on his replacement or where he’s headed. (WSJ) Passport, a Charlotte-N.C.-based transportation software and payments company whose platform is used by cities to manage parking and mobility infrastructure, hired in-house leader and former Big Law partner Chris Matton as general counsel. He arrives from Bandwidth, a cloud communications company where he was top lawyer. (
  • Snell & Wilmer grabbed Morgan, Lewis & Bockius intellectual property litigator Christopher Bright as a partner in Orange County, Calif.; Sheppard Mullin hired health care regulatory partner Xavier Baker from Crowell & Moring in Washington; Crowell recruited former D.C. Deputy Attorney General Toni Michelle Jackson in Washington as a partner in its litigation, labor and employment, and state attorneys general practice groups; Linklaters poached private equity partner Florent Mazeron in Paris from U.K. elite rival Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer; White & Case got Baker Botts capital markets special counsel Laura Katherine Mann as a partner in Houston. (

To contact the correspondent on this story: Rick Mitchell in Paris at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at; Darren Bowman at