Milbank again boosts associate pay, catching up to rivals

Man holding a briefcase rides up an escalator at a subway station on a cold but sunny day in central Seoul
  • Firm was first to raise salaries in 2021
  • Rivals soon upped the scale for associate pay
  • Comp battles continue amid hot market for junior talent

(Reuters) - Milbank, the law firm that started the latest associate compensation race, confirmed Tuesday that it will raise salaries further than it promised earlier this month, matching a newer scale set by New York competitors.

Earlier this month, Milbank was the first New York Big Law firm to raise first-year associate salaries from $190,000 to $200,000. A few firms matched quickly. But Davis Polk & Wardwell upped the ante soon after, offering $202,500 starting salaries for the class of 2021 and $2,500 more for the class of 2020.

Since then, other elite New York firms including Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison have also pledged to increase class of 2020 salaries to $205,000.

Milbank is offering slightly more than Davis Polk, raising salaries for the class of 2021 to $205,000. Willkie Farr & Gallagher and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett are doing the same.

The salary hikes may not be enough to stem a tide of associate departures from elite New York firms. Big Law firms have been grappling with how to retain associates as deal volume remains high, the hiring market is hot and the coronavirus pandemic has increased the risk of burnout.

The 10 most profitable elite New York firms - including Cravath and Davis Polk - have together lost hundreds of associates in 2021.

Elite New York firms were among dozens of firms in the spring that announced special two-installment bonuses as high as $64,000 for associates who stick around until later this year.

Milbank has emerged in recent years as an early mover on associate compensation. In 2018, the firm bumped its starting associate salary from $180,000 to $190,000, which became the New York Big Law standard.

Read More:

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Cravath joins rush to raise salaries, bringing more NY firms along

Elite N.Y. firms are in a battle for talent. Could they all be losing?

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Caroline Spiezio covers legal industry news, with a focus on law firms and in-house counsel. She is based in New York. Reach her at