20th May 2024

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Business Industry and Financial

Investment Banker Pay Stagnates As Lawyer Comp Soars, Per WSJ Report

  • Partners at big law firms now average upward of $3 million a year in compensation, reports The Wall Street Journal. 
  • Wall Street pay, meanwhile, has stagnated in recent  years.
  • Lackluster dealmaking has meant weak bonuses for bankers. 

It’s been a tough go for bankers over the past year.

The M&A and IPO markets have been at a near standstill for the past year. The lack of dealmaking and companies going public means no fees, which means weak bonuses.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough for bankers, The Wall Street Journal recently reported that even lawyers are now making more money than them!

The story even highlighted one recent high-profile move — dealmaker Robert Kindler’s departure from Morgan Stanley to join the powerhouse law firm of Paul Weiss — as evidence of the trend.

There are several factors affecting the rise in lawyer pay, as outlined in the story, but perhaps more interesting is how compensation for bankers hasn’t risen.

It turns out the culprit, as is often the case on Wall Street, is inflation.

Investment banking fees have largely remained unchanged over the years, per the WSJ, which is why the average total comp from a non-high-ranking managing director is between $1 million to $2 million. That figure has largely remained the same over the past 20 years.

Lawyers, meanwhile, have been more cognizant than bankers of the fact that the price of things tends to go up. Most large law firms increase their rates by about 4% annually, according to the WSJ. As a result, equity partners at big firms now average upward of $3 million a year in comp. 

It’s getting really tough these days to make the case for getting into investment banking. The hours are long. The work can be boring. And it seems like everyone — from hedge funders to private-equity dealmakers — is making more money than bankers these days. 

Sure, there is a certain cachet that comes with working at a large investment bank, as those junior positions can serve as a springboard for your career. And if you choose to remain at the bank and to rise to the top, you can hold the type of power most people on Wall Street can only dream of.

But non-banks are getting smarter about recruiting talent right out of college, and there are only so many C-level positions at big banks to go around. 

Which begs the question: Why bother getting into investment banking at all?