Most students enter law school with dreams of earning large salaries upon entering the job market. Some of these students may experience disappointment when they finally realize that many lawyers do not earn huge salaries. According to the National Association for Law Placement, lawyers earn starting salaries ranging from about $30,000 to more than $100,000. If a student enters the legal field as a corporate lawyer, he may earn the salary of his dreams.

Corporate Lawyers:

Corporate lawyers generally work for large law firms, many of which are multinational corporations. These corporations may have firms in major cities throughout the United States and several cities throughout the world. The legal profession refers to these firms as “large firms” or “big law.” You can determine whether a law firm is a large firm by noting the city where it is located. Then you examine the number of attorneys employed by the firm. For example, a law firm made up of 100 attorneys represents a large firm in Indianapolis, Indiana, whereas a law firm made up of 200 attorneys only represents a mid-size firm in New York, New York. Some corporate lawyers work directly for one company and are referred to as "in-house counsel."

Corporate Lawyer Salaries:

The National Association for Law Placement’s 2011 Associate Salary Survey reported the following figures: Law firms employing from 101 to 250 lawyers have a median starting salary of $105,000, while law firms employing from 251 to 500 lawyers have a median starting salary of $125,000. Law firms made up of between 501 and 700 lawyers have a median starting salary of $120,000, and law firms with more than 700 lawyers have a median starting salary of $160,000.

Structure of Large Law Firm:

The structure of these law firms resembles that of a pyramid. A few partners sit at the top of the pyramid, followed by several senior associates sitting in the middle of the pyramid. Many junior associations make of the base of the large-law-firm pyramid. Because law firms need a large number of junior associates to create the base, these large law firms hire new junior associates each year. These associates begin their careers at these firms after graduating from law school and taking the bar exam.

Set Lock-Step System:

Large law firms follow the set lock-step system of base compensation for their associates. That means each associate hired in the same year makes the same salary. Each associate’s salary then increases each year. The set lock-step system cuts down on competition among the associates. It also cuts down on associate attrition once the law firms have invested time and money in training their associates. In addition to base compensation, associates may receive bonuses based on merit.

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