Lawyer Salary - The salary of a lawyer ranges from $120,910 to $200,000 in the United States. However, earnings can vary greatly depending on where you practice and in what field.
In detail, this article will present you with verified information on the earnings of lawyers, both in the parastatal and private sectors.
For the sake of clarity, we will divide this article into two major subsections, each explaining a particular specialty of the legal profession, and its verified salary structure.
Below is the detail of our discussion:
1. Salary of lawyers by hierarchy
2. Salary of lawyers by field
Lawyer salary by hierarchy
By hierarchy, we look at hourly, monthly, and yearly earnings statistics for lawyers in the United States based on ranks or experience.
Here is the breakdown:
Average Lawyer Salary
The national annual salary of an average lawyer is $144,230, according to the BLS, which is not far from three times the average annual salary for all occupations, $51,960.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for a lawyer is $120,910 per year.
However, these figures are misleading, thanks to the bimodal distribution of wages.
First, there's the Cravath ladder - a compensation system that applies to most Biglaw firms based on the number of years out of law school and paid to New York lawyers working at Cravath and followed by many Biglaw firms.
Then there is the salary of a lawyer working in the civil service or as a solo lawyer. As you might have guessed, the two are significantly different.
Bimodal wage distribution
The average annual salary is a major draw for many considering the legal profession.
It's true that many lawyers earn excellent salaries, but you need to understand the bimodal distribution of salaries before you can grasp how much you could earn as a lawyer.
The salary distribution curve is familiar to most lawyers. It looks like this:
‣ A spike is centered around lawyers working in Biglaw firms and earning high salaries
‣ The other peak represents those working in a small law firm and earning significantly less
For example, the salary of a Biglaw lawyer is much higher than the income of an assistant attorney or a real estate lawyer.
The concept of 'average' salary is highly biased and tends to overlook some of the main factors, one of which is the geographical location of employment.
According to the BLS, the top five states with the highest salaries for lawyers are:
1. District of Columbia: $197,100
2. California: $179,470
3. New York: $174,060
5. Connecticut: $158,190
As you can see, a lawyer's salary depends on where they work, what industry they work in, and the size of the company.
To factor in some real-world data: The New York University graduating class of 2020 who joined law firms earned a median salary of $190,000. But graduates who have done legal internships?
They came in well below that number at $69,927. Similarly, graduates who took government jobs had a median salary of just $10,000.
Keeping the bimodal distribution scale in mind, you might consider the low end of the attorney salary scale to be around $60,000.
This is more likely to happen if you work in a non-metro city - the cost of living is lower, but so is the earning potential.
Public sector jobs and those who work for the government tend to have a lower average salary than private sector jobs.
For example, the average salary for a district attorney in New York is around $70,000. Even if the job is in a metropolitan city like New York, the industry here plays a big role in determining the salary.
High pay scale
You are more likely to earn a high salary as a lawyer if you are a high associate at law.
Although there is no definition of what Biglaw is, the phrase generally refers to some of the largest law firms in the United States. This is something you need to consider before getting into law.
If you want to work for a Biglaw company, you need to look at the average salary offered by companies in the area. There is no sense in studying the national average data, because it will be very irrelevant for you.
Most Biglaw firms operate on the Cravath scale. Cravath's scale allows law firms to follow suit when it comes to the salaries they pay partners.
It is popular because it helps retain lawyers from some of the best law schools.
The salary you can earn also largely depends on the standard of living and the cost of living in the state or city in question. Even within the same state, salaries can differ.
Take California for example – although it has some of the highest salary ranges for lawyers, according to the BLS, it offers different salaries in three of its major metropolitan areas:
1. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara: $231,610
2. San Francisco -Oakland-Hayward: $201,920
3. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim: $180,220
There's a nearly 25% difference separated by a few geographic miles, which can be the difference between making rent and downgrading to a lower standard of living.
However, this average salary is for the United States as a whole, which hides important differences by geography, such as the state in which you reside.
10 Highest Paying States for Lawyers
For example, the salary of a lawyer in Las Vegas is not the same as in San Francisco or Chicago, etc.
Below is a list of the 10 highest paying states for attorneys:
1. Average Lawyer Salary in California: $171,550
2. Average Lawyer Salary in New York: $167,110
3. Average Lawyer Salary in Massachusetts: $165,610
4. Average Lawyer Salary in Connecticut: $153,640
5. Average Lawyer Salary in Illinois: $152,980
6. Texas Average Lawyer Salary: $150,250
7. Average Lawyer Salary in Colorado: $147,560
8. Average Lawyer Salary in Arizona: $145,750
9. Average Lawyer Salary in Virginia: $139,180
10. Average Lawyer Salary in New Jersey: $139,020
Lawyer salary by field
Several law firms in the United States place their lawyers on different salary ranges.