Milbank Ups Associate Salaries to $215,000 in War for Talent (2)

Milbank said it increased starting associate salaries to $215,000 amid a hyper-competitive market for new law firm talent.

The bump disclosed Thursday adds $10,000 to the $205,000 salary for first-year associates that Milbank announced last summer. Second, third- and fourth-year associates will also see salaries jump $10,000, Milbank said.

Mid-level and senior associates will receive $20,000 increases, and the most senior associates will reach a $385,000 salary, the firm said. The increases apply to all associates in U.S., London, Asia and Sao Paulo offices and will be retroactive to Jan. 1.

Milbank’s move is the first thrust this year in the ongoing race to retain and attract top young talent in Big Law.

Every year the firm puts out a memo detailing salaries, said Milbank chairman Scott Edelman in an interview. Given the strong performance of the firm over the last couple of years and the hard work done by its lawyers, coupled with inflationary pressures, “we just thought it made sense to recognize all of that and increase salaries,” he said.

Milbank was first to increase associate salaries in 2018, raising the starting level to $190,000, which remained the standard until law firms upped salaries last year to $205,000. The salary bump also came amid record-high bonuses for associates, with law firms handing out special and year-end bonuses, which saw its most senior associates take home an additional $202,000.

“The bonuses paid last year by law firms were record bonuses and this is just putting a relatively small portion of that into the salary compensation,” Edelman said. “We thought it was something that made sense and wanted to recognize Milbank lawyers for their contributions,” he said.

Despite the cash windfall, retention and recruiting remain a challenge for law firms. A recent report by Georgetown University and Thomson Reuters Institute showed that associate turnover rates at AmLaw 100 firms reached nearly 25% last year, up from just 19% in 2019.

Even though the firm is the first to move on associate salaries this year, Edelman said he doesn’t think lawyers will come to Milbank because of the increases as its peer law firms are likely to follow suit in raising salaries. Wall Street firm Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft said it would match Milbank’s new scale late Thursday afternoon.

“I don’t think we’re the last word on this,” Edelman said. “On the other hand, I do think its symbolic to younger lawyers and more senior lawyers that we care about our people and we want to make sure that they’re compensated fairly and in a way that recognizes their contributions and our success.”.