First Year Lawyers Starting Salaries in Baltimore on the Rise?

This post was originally written in 2008.  Goodness, things have changed in 2020, with COVID and everything else.

Let’s see where we are now with attorney salaries and, specifically, first-year starting salaries for new lawyers in the Baltimore area. Keep in mind so much of this is based on conjecture and rumor, so you have to take it all with a few ounces of salt.

What Do the 2019 Statistics Show?
first year attorney salaries

  • Robert Half tells us that the average starting salary nationwide is $68,000.  Baltimore gets a 3% location bump.  So, roughly, this tells us that the average starting salary in Baltimore in 2018 was approximately $70,040.  
  • reports a similar start salary number in 2019 of $66,900.
  • Venable appears to have a starting salary of $180,000 in 2018.   Things have changed with all these law firms merging like crazy.  But Venable is still the firm most synonymous with “Baltimore big firm” so I think it is an important barometer.
  • In 2017, Ballard Spahr was at $125,000; Duane Morris was at $150,000; McGuire Woods is at $140,000.
  • The 2019 entry-level salary starting salary for Baltimore City State’s Attorneys is $63,000.

The Original 2008 Post

Apparently, the reports of the demise of opportunity for upper-crust law students looking to practice law in Baltimore were greatly exaggerated. The Maryland Daily Record reports that first-year lawyers starting at Venable this fall will make a whopping $165,000, more than every judge in Maryland other than Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell. Two other law firms with offices in Baltimore, DLA Piper, and Hogan & Hartson will pay first-year associates $160,000. (Personal note: I got a second interview at Hogan & Hartson in my second year of law school. A fellow named John Roberts interviewed me. I think my rejection letter arrived before I got back to my house.)

Things are also going swimmingly at Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, a mid-sized Baltimore-based law firm that many believed would not thrive in the new world of mega law firms. This year, Whiteford will pay first-year lawyers $120,000, a 26% increase from last year’s $95,000.

In other Baltimore salary news, Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger & Hollander is holding first-year associate salaries $100,000 as it has for the last two years.

I wrote recently that I thought it was silly to think that the Baltimore legal market would be immunized from the downturn in business activity in the economy. But there may be some level of truth to it.

More Baltimore first-year lawyer salaries

McGwire Woods LLP: $145,000
Miles & Stockbridge P.C.: $140,000
Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll LLP: $140,000
Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office: $52,800
Baltimore City Public Defender’s Office: $52,949

Thoughts on Starting Salaries for Lawyer

On average, first-year lawyers in the United States can expect to earn a starting salary in the range of $70,000 to $160,000 per year.  The median starting salary for a lawyer in 2023 is about $100,000.  But you have to understand these numbers mean nothing to you. The starting salary for a first-year lawyer can vary depending on so many factors, including the size and location of the law firm, the lawyer’s area of specialty, the regional cost of living… and who you are, where you went to law school, and the type of grade you got.  Those things matter.

Large law firms in major cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C., tend to offer higher starting salaries compared to smaller firms in less populated areas. Lawyers specializing in high-demand areas of law, such as corporate law, intellectual property law, and tax law, also tend to earn higher starting salaries. If you are in a small town doing domestic law or immigration, you can expect a whole lot less than you big city peers.

It’s important to note that starting salaries for first-year lawyers are often based on a standard 40-hour workweek. In small town USA, this is what many first year lawyers see.  However, many law firms expect their employees to work significantly more than 40 hours per week, including evenings and weekends.  So on an hourly basis, it does not look quite so good. Some of these big law firms really feel like prisons, at least for many, and the quality of life is awful.

  • Still want to chase dollars after that speech? Fair enough.  Here are the top 10 legal specialties in terms of salary in 2023
  • If you are looking to get depressed, look at this first year starting salary statistic for Maryland