The NALP reports two sets of statistics about the Class of 2011. One is that the average starting salary was 6.5% lower than that for the Class of 2010. In addition, the median was 17% lower than for the Class of 2009 and the average was 16% lower.
Manpower costs have continued to keep expenses rising in BigLaw, despite all the attempts at cost efficiency. While revenues are flat or growing slowly, expenses continue to creep up. There is a lot of abstract talk about hiring fewer associates for the partner track, using more staff attorneys, and outsourcing. However, the old model of many associates per partner and too many of them assuming they could make partner still dominates.
Lower starting salaries is a start. The legal sector, like much of nonprofit academia (for-profit is wired for survival), changes at a glacial pace. This pace may accelerate as those firms which do implement significant change get more new business than traditional ones.