Posted On: February 1, 2008 by Ronald V. Miller, Jr.

Baltimore Mega Law Firm Lawyer Salaries

The Maryland Daily Record's Blog reports that DLA Piper and Venable, the two Baltimore mega firms, have raised their associate starting salaries in Baltimore to $160,000.

I remember in 1995 when I was making $57,500 coming out of law school at a litigation defense firm in Baltimore that, at that time, was only a half notch below Piper and Venable in starting salary. Because other than being a law clerk, my next best paying job in life had been as a camp counselor making minimum wage, I thought I was a millionaire. (In a related story, I was still living at home.)

The Daily Record Blog asks if these young associates are worth 160K a year. The answer is clearly no. But three years from now, when they have quality experience and are billing out at $450 an hour while working approximately 28.7 hours a day, the answer becomes a resounding yes. It is not dissimilar to the Oakland Raiders signing JaMarcus Russell to a six-year, $68 million contract even when they did not think he would be an asset to them in the first year of his contract (they were right).

To collect this 160K a year, there is a catch. You actually have to show up and work there. I can honestly say that I would not take the job of a first year associate at one of these firms if they offered me $1,000,000 a year. If you can walk into some of these big firms - I'm not speaking to Venable and Piper specifically – you will see many of their lawyers are blinking t-o-r-t-u-r-e in Morse Code. These are tough places to work, especially if you have a family and other commitments. For a great fictional account of big firm life that is absolutely hysterical, check out the Anonymous Lawyer Blog.

If you read a lot of blogs, you might be rolling your eyes that another personal injury lawyer blog is bashing big (defense) firms. Well, you are, I guess. But there is a reason while DLA Piper has over three thousand lawyers: all things considered, including I’m guessing the money, it works for them. While the big firm life was certainly not an environment in which I thrived, I have a lot of friends who tolerate it quite well. My brother-in-law is a fantastic lawyer. I’m always running issues by him even though he does not do personal injury work. He is a partner for a mega firm in Arizona. He has tons of his own clients and bills out at roughly $10,000 an hour. Of course, I'm telling him, "Geez, take those clients and go start your own firm, you can retire (and I can retire off you)." But he enjoys that power, resources, support, and camaraderie with so many other lawyers that a big firm provides and would never consider anything else. (In a related story, one of his big hobbies is using vocabulary words I’ve never even seen before in emails.)

It is a Friday and I’m stalling getting back to work so I’ll make one other big firm comment. The jab every small firm trial lawyer loves to make about mega firm lawyers is that a first year lawyer after two weeks on the job as a district attorney usually has a great deal more trial experience than a large firm lawyer that has been practicing for 15 years. This drives big firm lawyers crazy because there is a lot of truth to it. But I started practicing law at a pretty big firm and we were national counsel for pharmaceutical companies, working with a lot of mega law firms around the country. A lot of those lawyers had little or no trial experience. But they were smart people who had given a lot of creative thought to how to prepare a case for trial. Sure, some of these lawyers would fare about as well as your cousin Elmo in front of a jury. But working with these lawyers – including the Elmos - I think was great experience as a young lawyer that served me well when I began preparing and trying cases. I also saw many the best plaintiffs' lawyers in the country and some that were not so good. I learned a great deal from both.