Projections Show Lawyer Compensation Going Up in 2016

Posted by Larry Bodine | Dec 25, 2015 | 0 Comments

2016 looks like a good year for lawyer compensation increases, according to two new surveys. While differing their definitions and criteria, both see demographic trends and client demands pushing lawyer incomes higher.

In its 2016 Salary Guide for the Legal Field, Robert Half projects compensation increases of 2.3% to 4.7%, depending on the size of a law firm and the experience of the lawyer.

Lawyer (10+ years' exp.)

Firm Size


% change

Large law firm

$ 194,250 - $ 279,500


Midsize law firm

$ 162,750 - $ 268,500


Small/midsize law firm

$ 139,500 - $ 193,750


Small law firm

$ 108,250 - $ 169,750


Lawyer (4-9 years' exp.)

Large law firm

$ 162,250 - $ 228,750


Midsize law firm

$ 135,000 - $ 205,500


Small/midsize law firm

$ 102,750 - $ 175,750


Small law firm

$ 81,000 - $ 138,500


Lawyer (1-3 years' exp.)

Large law firm

$ 120,750 - $ 162,250


Midsize law firm

$ 94,000 - $ 128,750


Small/midsize law firm

$ 71,500 - $ 109,000


Small law firm

$ 61,750 - $ 93,500


First-Year Associate

Large law firm

$ 116,000 - $ 143,500


Midsize law firm

$ 81,250 - $ 112,750


Small/midsize law firm

$ 63,750 - $ 90,250


Small law firm

$ 55,250 - $ 79,500


For definitions and multipliers for specific cities, see the 2016 Salary Guide for the Legal Field.

“Highly sought-after legal professionals are receiving multiple job offers, counteroffers and, in some cases, signing bonuses,” Robert Half reports. In-demand practice areas and positions include:

  • Litigation - insurance defense, personal injury, medical malpractice, employment law and commercial litigation.
  • Healthcare - medical research, Medicare fraud and healthcare implementation.
  • Business/corporate law - acquisitions and joint ventures; issuing securities; and performing other transactions associated with business growth.
  • Commercial real estate - contract negotiations, researching property surveys and titles, resolving zoning issues, and assigning leases.
  • Intellectual property - attorneys with technical backgrounds, including electrical engineering and computer science.
  • Compliance - help businesses understand and comply with often-changing regulations.
  • Contract administration - contracts with customers, vendors, partners and employees. They also review, negotiate and draft agreements, including procurement and service contracts and leases.

Law firms “are hiring midlevel lawyers who can assume full caseloads and junior level associates who can help meet client demands for lower billing rates. While recruiting has not returned to prerecession levels, law firms in many markets are expanding first-year and summer associate programs.”

As Baby Boomers are leaving law firms, members of Generation Z (individuals born between 1990 and 1999) are moving in.

Special Counsel

In its 2016 Salary Guide for Legal Professionals, Special Counsel projects a 2-3% average salary growth in 2016 for attorneys and legal support professionals.





Junior Associate




Mid-Level Associate




Senior Associate




For definitions and multipliers for specific cities, see the 2016 Salary Guide for Legal Professionals.

“In recent years, high numbers of law school grads have resulted in a generous supply of new lawyers. However, law firms and corporate legal departments often demand more seasoned lawyers,” reports Special Counsel. “This mismatch could resolve itself in the future: the number of first-year law students has decreased by nearly 30% since a record high in 2010.”

  • eDiscovery is becoming more prominent. A growing number of specialty professionals, managed services offerings, new technologies and predictive coding offer legal organizations an array of options.
  • Cybersecurity is in the spotlight. From Anthem to Home Depot to Target, countless large, recognizable companies have made news headlines by experiencing crippling data breaches. However, many law firms have also been affected by breaches of client data and proprietary organizational data. As a result, cybersecurity investments should increase in 2016 and beyond.
  • Contract work is gaining momentum. Expect more firms and in-house legal departments to explore using contract workers for high-volume workloads and special cases and projects.

About the Author

Larry Bodine

Larry Bodine is a marketer, journalist and attorney who knows how to turn website visitors into clients for trial law firms.


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