Aspiring law students and those considering a career change to law often wonder about the financial rewards of becoming a lawyer. While it is true that lawyers can earn high salaries, the amount of money they make can vary widely depending on several factors. In this article, we will explore the average salaries of lawyers in the United States, the factors affecting earnings, and some tips for increasing your earning potential as a lawyer.
Understanding Lawyer Salaries: The National Average and Variations
The national average salary for a lawyer in the United States is around $144,230 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, this average can vary widely depending on the type of law practiced, the size and location of the law firm, and the lawyer’s level of experience.
Salary by Type of Law
Lawyers who specialize in certain areas of law tend to earn more than those who practice general law. According to a 2020 report by NALP, the median starting salary for a first-year associate at a large law firm was $190,000, while the median starting salary for a public interest lawyer was $51,000.
Salary by Firm Size and Location
Lawyers who work at large law firms with more than 700 attorneys tend to earn more than those at smaller firms. Additionally, lawyers who practice in major metropolitan areas such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. generally earn higher salaries than those practicing in smaller cities or rural areas.
Salary by Experience
Lawyers with more experience generally earn higher salaries. According to the BLS, the median salary for lawyers with less than one year of experience is $68,860, while the median salary for lawyers with 10 or more years of experience is $186,350.
Factors Affecting Lawyer Salaries
Several factors can affect a lawyer’s salary, including the following:
Type of Employer
Lawyers who work for large law firms tend to earn more than those who work for small firms or government agencies. However, government lawyers can enjoy job security and benefits that may offset lower salaries.
The cost of living and demand for legal services in a particular area can affect lawyer salaries. For example, lawyers practicing in major metropolitan areas tend to earn higher salaries than those in smaller cities or rural areas.
As mentioned earlier, lawyers who specialize in certain areas of law tend to earn more than those who practice general law. For example, intellectual property lawyers and corporate lawyers tend to earn higher salaries than public interest lawyers or criminal defense lawyers.
Level of Experience
As also mentioned earlier, lawyers with more experience generally earn higher salaries. However, it’s important to note that some law firms may prefer to hire younger lawyers who are willing to work longer hours and accept lower salaries.
Tips for Increasing Your Earning Potential as a Lawyer
If you’re considering a career in law or are already a practicing lawyer, there are several ways to increase your earning potential:
Specialize in a High-Demand Area of Law
As mentioned earlier, lawyers who specialize in high-demand areas of law such as corporate law or intellectual property tend to earn higher salaries than those who practice in less lucrative areas.
Work for a Large Law Firm
Lawyers who work for large law firms tend to earn higher salaries than those at smaller firms or government agencies.
Consider Relocating to a High-Demand Area
As mentioned earlier, geographic location can have a significant impact on lawyer salaries. Consider relocating to a major metropolitan area where demand for legal services is high.
Build Your Network and Reputation
Building a strong professional network and reputation can lead to higher-paying opportunities. Attend legal conferences, participate in bar association events, and engage with other legal professionals on social media to expand your network and showcase your expertise.
Gain More Experience
As mentioned earlier, lawyers with more experience generally earn higher salaries. Look for opportunities to take on more challenging cases or responsibilities at your firm to gain more experience and increase your earning potential.
Negotiate Your Salary
When starting a new job or negotiating a raise, don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary. Research salaries for your specific practice area, firm size, and geographic location to get a sense of what you should be earning, and be prepared to negotiate for a fair salary.
How Much Does the Average Lawyer Make: While the average salary for a lawyer in the United States is around $144,230 per year, the amount of money a lawyer can earn can vary widely depending on several factors, including the type of law practiced, the size and location of the law firm, and the lawyer’s level of experience. By specializing in high-demand areas of law, working for large law firms, building your network and reputation, gaining more experience, and negotiating your salary, you can increase your earning potential as a lawyer.
- Is becoming a lawyer a good financial decision?
Becoming a lawyer can be a good financial decision for those who are passionate about the law and are willing to work hard to build their careers. However, it’s important to research salaries and job prospects for your specific practice area, firm size, and geographic location before making a decision.
- Do lawyers make more money than doctors?
It depends on the specific practice area and level of experience. While some lawyers may earn more than some doctors, the average salary for physicians and surgeons is higher than the average salary for lawyers.
- How much do public interest lawyers make?
Public interest lawyers typically earn less than lawyers who work at large law firms. According to a 2020 report by NALP, the median starting salary for a public interest lawyer was $51,000.
- How do I negotiate my salary as a lawyer?
Research salaries for your specific practice area, firm size, and geographic location, and be prepared to make a case for why you deserve a higher salary based on your experience and expertise.
- What is the highest-paying area of law?
Intellectual property law and corporate law tend to be the highest-paying areas of law, although salaries can vary widely depending on the size and location of the law firm and the lawyer’s level of experience.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Lawyers. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm
Gonzalez, C. (2021, April 14). The 10 practice areas that pay the most. The American Lawyer. Retrieved from https://www.law.com/americanlawyer/2021/04/14/the-10-practice-areas-that-pay-the-most/
NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education. (2020). Jobs & JDs: Employment and Salaries of New Law Graduates – Class of 2019. Retrieved from https://www.nalp.org/091620jobsjds2020