Cravath Sees Milbank’s Raise to $190K for First-Years and Adds $340K for Senior Associates

Cravath Swaine & Moore, which broke the nine-year stalemate on associate salaries two years ago, is now part of the latest effort to push starting salaries upward.

The firm, in a memo, said it would add up to $10,000 to the associates salary scale that, at some major firms anyway, now starts at $190,000 for lawyers newly graduated from law school. Milbank,Tweed, Hadley & McCloy unexpectedly started the ball rolling last week when it hiked salaries from $180,000 where they had been since 2016.

Cravath’s action makes it more likely that other firms will follow suit and make firms who pay lesser amounts look like outliers among the elite BigLaw world. The jockeying among top-line firms makes it likely that a starting salary of $200,000 is not far off.

The race upward also saw some low-key but unmistakable elbowing as Selendy & Gay, whose partners broke away from Quinn Emanuel, also raised its associate salary scale. The newly formed litigation boutique matched Milbank’s upswing, suggesting – but not saying – it’s in the big leagues. Quinn has yet to make its salary intentions known.

Firms began laying the groundwork for that when Simpson Thacher & Bartlett announced last week that it would be matching salaries and also parcel out bonuses based on seniority. The bonuses can reach $25,000 at the most senior associate levels.

Not to be outdone by its rivals, Cravath matched Milbank’s salary schedule for the beginning associates but at mid-scale, it is giving an additional $5,000 over Milbank. At the senior associate level, the hike is $10,000. Cravath’s eighth-year associates will earn $340,000 instead of $330,000 at Milbank. It is also awarding special bonuses.

Cravath’s increase will be effective July 1.