Start Your FREE Membership NOW
 Discover Proven Ways to Be a Better Law Office Manager
 Get Our Daily eNewsletter, Law Office Manager Bulletin,
    and MUCH MORE
 Absolutely NO Risk or Obligation on Your Part -- It's FREE!

Upgrade to Premium Membership NOW for Just $90!
Get 3 Months of Full Premium Membership Access
Includes Our Monthly Newsletter, Office Toolbox, Policy Center, and Archives

Associate compensation plans: The 20-year salary swing

By Brenda A. Barnes and Camille Stell

While the salary comparisons from 2000 to now may not seem important to your small or mid-size firm, keep in mind the trickle-down effect means:

  • Unrealistic expectations of salary from recent law school graduates
  • As your associates compare salaries with their colleagues at larger firms (who often have lockstep pay, at least for new associates), they may begin to ask for salary transparency that makes you uncomfortable as pay disparities will be brought to light
  • Law school debt causes law school graduates to search for the highest paying position. This may result in local salary wars, or your firm falling behind therefore losing a competitive advantage in hiring

As you consider your associate recruiting and retention strategy, it may be time for a new compensation strategy especially as firms welcome Next Generation associates.

The Gen Z advisor Hannah Grady Williams, who is a Gen Z’er herself, has this to say about compensation:

“You can build loyalty with us by making some small changes to compensation models. If our generation understands the salary ranges of our position and how to reach the next pay level, we will immediately trust you more. Frankly, we aren’t the only generation demanding greater pay transparency, but perhaps unlike other generations it will quickly become a reason we’ll leave the workplace rather than fighting to stay. Implementing full pay transparency in your organizations helps in many ways:

  • It takes away the guessing game for everyone. Simply knowing the CEO’s salary shows their employees company priorities – whether the salary is high (and something to aspire to for Z’ers who appreciate higher pay!) or lower to indicate a selfless cause, simply know how executives are paid builds trust and loyalty. I won’t pretend to know which pay model is ideal for your organization, as each is different; however, any company should strongly consider how pay is perceived across the firm, what the cost is of not building greater transparency into the scales, and what small changes can be made.
  • Salary negotiations are beginning to fade away. Instead, salary discussions are embedded in forward-thinking career growth plans for all employees. Employees have a clear path forward and understand the salary that will accompany it, and if the pay models no longer work with our financial situation, we will self-select out.”

Williams also makes the point that Gen Z tends to value health care benefits in a way many other young people of prior generations did not. Williams says “Health care benefits are nearly as important to Z’ers as salary because even though this generation is young, they are the least likely to be able to weather the financial storm of an unexpected illness or ER bill. This fear was exacerbated by COVID-19 and its global health impacts.”

To learn more about attorney compensation plans, visit or reach out the authors to schedule a meeting.