In "The Toppling of Top-Tier Lawyer Jobs," on the NYT's Economix blog, explains why salaries at top law firms have defied market conditions:
Talk to just about any partner at any major law firm, though, and they’ll tell you that first-year associates know basically nothing when they start out. Plus, a tiny fraction of the new grads they hire and train intensively actually stick around to become partners seven or so years later. And during the financial crisis, clients balked at paying the hourly rates that firms had to charge in order to cover those $160,000 salaries. There’s also a huge surplus of new lawyers right now, even from the top schools.
With all those factors put together, you might expect salaries to fall, at least a little, at some of the big firms.
Instead law firms have been reluctant to lower their starting pay for these first-year associate slots, partly because they worry they’ll miss out on the best talent (even though that seems to be abundant) and partly because they are afraid of losing face. Not paying the standard top-tier salary is a tacit admission that you’re no longer top-tier.
Lawyers are by training (and nature, one might argue, given the choice to go to law school) risk-averse. Because no one wants to be the first mover in lowering that entry-level salary, firms have kept the salary and just hired fewer new lawyers.
But the pool of new lawyers pulling down top salaries is starting to shrink, as the post's graphs clearly illustrate.