First Year Lawyers Starting Salaries in Baltimore on the Rise?

This post was originally written in 2008.  So this post is a mismath of different information from 2008-2023

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.

May 2023 Statistics

A report released on May 10, 2023, revealed that first-year associate salaries have risen across all law firm sizes in May 2023 compared to 2021, with the average starting salary increasing by $35,000 to $200,000. The National Association for Law Placement’s (NALP) 2023 Associate Salary Survey report indicated that while salary raises at large law firms are well-documented, midsize and small firms have also been boosting pay rates, often at a quicker pace.  We will get to Baltimore in a second, we are talking about national starting lawyer salary statistics right now.

The big jump was, no surprise, for law firms with over 700 lawyers.  Their average starting salary rose by 13% from $190,000 in 2021 to $215,000 in 2023. The most significant rate of increase was observed at firms with 100 or fewer lawyers, where median first-year salaries grew by 29.2% from $120,000 to $155,000 over the past two years.

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.

Where We Are Post-Covid?

As the legal industry continues to evolve, newly-minted lawyers entering the workforce in Maryland are met with varied starting salaries depending on various factors such as location, firm size, and practice area. In this report, we take a closer look at the starting salaries for lawyers in Maryland and what recent law school graduates can expect as they embark on their legal careers.

$60,000 to $80,000 Average Starting Salary in Baltimore

According to recent data, the average starting salary for a first-year associate in Maryland falls within the range of $60,000 to $80,000 per year. However, this figure can differ significantly based on factors such as the size of the law firm and its location within the state.

Big Law Is a Different Breed

Graduates joining large law firms, often referred to as “BigLaw,” can expect starting salaries on the higher end of the spectrum, reaching up to $190,000 or more per year. These firms typically have a national or international presence and hire new associates to work in specialized practice areas such as corporate law, intellectual property, or mergers and acquisitions. If you don’t mind working in the virtual prison that many of these law firms offer, it is great stuff.

Smaller Firms, Smaller Salaries

On the other hand, smaller law firms and boutique practices in Maryland generally offer lower starting salaries, ranging from $50,000 to $70,000 annually. These firms may focus on more localized legal services, including family law, criminal defense, or personal injury litigation.

In addition to firm size, the geographical location within Maryland can also influence starting salaries. Lawyers practicing in larger metropolitan areas, such as Baltimore or Bethesda, often command higher salaries compared to their counterparts in more rural regions of the state.

Furthermore, public sector positions, including those with state agencies, public interest organizations, or district attorney’s offices, typically offer lower starting salaries than private law firms. However, these roles often provide valuable experience and opportunities for career advancement, as well as benefits such as loan forgiveness programs for those working in public service.

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.  I was so out of my depth.)

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