Where less can be more
"The pay doesn't always match the importance of the work we do," observes Steven Rutter, associate director of social work at Elmhurst Hospital Center, with some understatement. "The trade-off is, you make a difference, by getting people a place to live, food, changing their lives, helping them with psychological problems." M.S.W.'s at city hospitals -- or "line workers," those who work one-on-one with patients -- get hired at $34,000. A top-level supervisor with eight years of experience caps at about $55,000. Other social workers on the front lines get paid about the same. At the Administration for Children's Services, the salaries start at $30,000 and run to $56,000; supervisors make from $53,000 to $65,000. But "there are tremendous rewards in being a social worker," Rutter is quick to point out. "Sometimes I can't get social workers to go home at the end of the day."
People who knead people
Massage therapists at health clubs and spas can command as much as $35 an hour. But at New York Sports Club, for instance, full time is fifteen hours a week of rubbing -- three massages a day -- which yields around $32,000 a year once you factor in the standard 10 to 15 percent tip. "We live by tips," says NYSC massage coordinator Scott Douglas. Working privately, however, can be far more lucrative. Rubdown artists generally start at $55 an hour and work their way up to $100 an hour or more; book three sessions a day, five days a week, and you're pulling in $62,500 a year. Different neighborhoods command different rates. Uptowners, for instance, "are not going for the bargain," says Monique Jutila, a former massage therapist at NYSC. "They want to be pampered, they want convenience, they want to be able to call somebody at the drop of a hat." This could mean $200 for an hour-and-a-half session, close to the cost of psychotherapy. But as Jutila explains,"It's a very vulnerable place to be when someone's working on your body."
The long ladder to success
Firefighters earn roughly the same as cops: $32,724 for a rookie fighter who's passed a physical training test. Says Chief Brian Dixon: "The test is job-specific, which for us includes raising ladders, stretching hose, dragging a dummy through a corridor, feeling your way through a darkened room. We'd like to know beforehand if he gets claustrophobic, because this would be the wrong job for him." Uh, or her. Come the six-year anniversary, a firefighter is earning $49,023 for two nine-hour day tours and two fifteen-hour night tours each week. The 1,500 lieutenants who supervise fighters in action earn $57,623 ($62,857 after four years). The 306 battalion chiefs in New York City earn $74,906, which rises with seniority to $93,948, and the 53 deputy chiefs, who take over command from the battalion chief if a fire gets dangerously out of control, are paid $86,549 to $104,132. Yes, firemen get a pension after twenty years, based on a formula of the average of the best three of their last five years.
Count on long hours, partner
When you graduate from law school, you're faced with a choice stark enough for a courtroom drama: profits or public service. The current standard for a first-year associate at the city's 25 largest law firms is $125,000, but after the year-end bonus kicks in, total compensation can approach $160,000. Meanwhile, rookies in the city's district-attorney's office continue to make between $30,500 and $40,000, just as they did before the bull market began. A Legal Aid Society criminal-defense attorney starts at $35,000.
Once you get in the door at a firm, your salary rises in lockstep with class year; for instance, an eighth-year associate at any of the city's top firms is currently making in the neighborhood of $225,000 plus bonus. The partner track is about eight to nine years. If you haven't made partner by your ninth year, you probably never will; but as consolation you'll still be bringing down well over $250,000, not counting bonus. If you do make partner, your annual earnings are equal to your share of the firm's operating income -- at least $250,000 at a small firm, $600,000 at an average firm, and, at the city's most profitable firms, like Cravath, Davis Polk, and Cahill, more than $1 million. At Wachtel, the richest law firm in the city, partners rake in $3.1 million apiece.
The hours are deadly for associates, who are routinely putting in 70 and 100 hours a week. So it's no surprise that after a few punishing years many decide to leave the white-shoe world for a position as an in-house lawyer for a corporation. The advantages of going corporate are that you get to have a life, stock options, and a terrific bonus if your company is still riding the bull market. The disadvantage is a moderate loss of glamour: "Working as a litigator at a firm, for a variety of clients in a variety of industries, will always be more interesting than working in-house for a single client," says Penny Windle, a fourth-year associate at Cahill. However, a chief legal counsel at a blue-chip company makes about what a partner at a mid-range law firm would. The median salary for a chief legal officer is $737,000; $360,500 for a general counsel; $293,000 for a chief assistant; $167,000 for a senior counsel; $120,597 for a staff attorney.
Working for a corporation always meant getting paid better during good times, but in the past few years so many lawyers have left their firms for corporate-counsel jobs at one of the city's Fortune 500 companies or at a Silicon Alley start-up that firms have had to start paying out "boom year" bonuses (ranging from $2,500 for a first-year lawyer to $30,000 for an eighth-year associate in 1999) to stem the attrition rate.
For those who take the road less traveled, the rewards are much less lucrative: A New York City Criminal Court judge makes $125,600, while at New York City law schools, professors' salaries average $120,000.
Pump up those wallets
For personal trainers it's specialization, not pumping iron, that inflates the earnings. A personal trainer (someone who has a national certification or an exercise-science degree or both) starts out at roughly $30,000 a year, reports Alma Largey, a professional trainer and yoga instructor. A pro trainer (who specializes in an area like prenatal fitness and has completed an advanced in-house training program) makes $50,000. The master trainer (for instance, someone who has advanced skills and certification) could make more than $60,000. Trainers who meet clients at their own gym can command $60 to $150 an hour -- all going straight into the trainer's pocket (many clubs charge an outside trainer a $15 to $25 fee, but the client usually pays that). Yes, private personal trainers can command $150 an hour or more, but if you can't break into the big leagues, as one trainer puts it, "you've got to be okay with the simple life."
The beat goes on . . . and on
To become a "recruit," or first-year officer who takes home $31,305, you must be at least 22 years old, live in one of the five counties, have completed 60 college credits, and (what else?) be free from felony convictions. After five years, police officers get off probation and their salaries jump to $51,978. Not bad, but remarkably, they max out after twenty years on the force at $54,978 -- unless you get promoted to sergeant ($59,299), lieutenant ($68,067), or captain ($83,543). Then there's the chief of department, one notch below police commissioner, who makes $122,000. "He's the No. 1 cop," says Detective Walter Burns. "When you're chief of department, you're the guy." The finest go out after twenty years on a pension that is half their last year's pay.