« on: August 22, 2007, 09:28:30 PM »
I have yet to hear of a SINGLE "mid-size" firm in Chicago that pays $160k. In fact, several "big" firms have yet to raise to $160k and, for most that have, there has been blatant compression (only the top firms, e.g. Mayer, Sidley, Kirkland, etc.) have matched the NYC "market" salary all the way up (i.e. 160, 170, 185, 210, 235...). The only non-big firms that have matched are the elite boutiques (e.g. elite IP, or the over-the-top elite appellate likes of, e.g., Bartlit Beck).
There are, of course, a handful of premium mid-size firms in Chicago, perhaps a half-dozen, at which one can now expect to see starting salaries in the neighborhood of $125-140k (and for a few, a billable expectation of 1850-1900, rather than 2000). The premium mid-size shops offer a full range of services, serving mostly middle market, local corporations (or the Illinois-specific needs of large corporations). But these are NOT what most people are talking about when they say "mid-size" or "mid-law." In larger markets in general and in Chicago in particular, mid-size means 50-100 lawyers, one office (with a few exceptions), providing mostly insurance defense services, with starting salaries ranging from 65 (on the low end) to 80 (more common) to 90 (high end). One can (and is expected to at such shops) develop a practice (i.e. a book of business) beyond insurance defense at such places, but at that point, why not just hang one's own shingle?
As someone who, in my first year of law school, said, "I don't think a big Chicago firm is for me, nah, I think I want to work at a mid-size firm," let me say that I was completely clueless. Make no mistake: you want to spend your summer (prior to 3L) at as prestigious a large firm as you can. Regardless of your ultimate goals, that is the ideal way to start. You will make a lot of money, be treated like a king/queen, and will be exposed to the most sophisticated, broadest possible practices available. Ideally, you should receive an offer from such a firm to return after graduation. Such a firm will pay for your bar course, and perhaps a stipend while you study for the bar. Months before your bar results are even posted, you can go to work and start making top dollar and learning about the largest clients in the world. If you discover (as many do) that such a setting and such hours are not for you, you can simply act on one of the never-ending calls from recruiters that will have your phone ringing off the hook (to lateral to one of the above described premium mid-size firms, corporations, etc.). Bear in mind that typical mid-size firms do not help you with your bar studies, many will not start paying you that breathtaking $80k salary until your bar results come in as passing, and you will not receive any recruiting calls (i.e. your exit options will be quite limited; but you could always go solo once you've gotten some experience or, in some rare cases, lateral to a big firm).
Note that, at most typical mid-size firms, the concept of the "summer associate" is laughed at by the partners as a ridiculous waste of money. At the premium mid-size firms, only 4 or 5 students will be taken each summer, and all of them will have turned down offers from several of the top big firms.