The average lawyer salary in the United States was $120,910 in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics most recent published data. This is a 1.4% increase over the 2017 average which was $119,250.
Whether you’re a practicing lawyer, studying for the bar exam, or still just considering law school, it is helpful to understand your earning potential.
Average Lawyer Salary by State and City
Your salary as a lawyer will depend on where you choose to live. Because some states and municipalities have significantly higher costs of living than others, you can expect to be paid a higher salary in those locations.
Additionally, one city may have many more opportunities for employment than another. Cities may also have more or less competition for law positions depending on their populations.
States with the Highest Average Lawyer Salary
The Department of Labor Statistics lists the following as the highest-paying states for lawyers as of May 2018:
- District of Columbia ($192,530 annual mean wage)
- California ($171,550 annual mean wage)
- New York ($167,110 annual mean wage)
- Massachusetts ($165,610 annual mean wage)
- Connecticut ($153,640 annual mean wage)
Cities with the Highest Average Lawyer Salary
The top five highest-paying cities/municipalities for lawyers are as follows:
- San Jose, California ($207,950 annual mean wage)
- San Francisco, California ($183,070 annual mean wage)
- Washington, DC ($179,980 annual mean wage)
- Los Angeles, CA ($176,020 annual mean wage)
- Houston, TX (175,380 annual mean wage)
States with the Lowest Average Lawyer Salary
Lawyers earn the lowest salary (between $68,260 and $100,900 on average) in the following states: Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, and West Virginia.
Entry-Level Lawyer Median Pay
Where you live makes a big difference, but an even larger determiner of your salary is your experience in the field.
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average lawyer salary as $120,910 for 2018, employer and job-post sites often appear less optimistic. For example, Indeed lists the average salary for lawyers as $76,521. ZipRecruiter shows an average attorney salary of $82,852.
This discrepancy is because job-post sites like Indeed and ZipRecruiter incorporate many more entry-level jobs than higher-level positions.
Law is a career where you earn significantly more as you gain experience and education, and entry-level positions pay much less than higher-level jobs.
A junior lawyer (entry-level lawyer) can earn anywhere between $23,163 and $116,293, with the average entry-level lawyer median pay hovering around $65,000 per year (PayScale.com).
Law Career Fields and Salary
You don’t have to choose a field of law prior to starting law school, but it can be helpful to know which field interests you most. If you’re still in school, this information can help you better focus your studies to match your future career path. If you’ve already graduated from law school, this list can help you compare your prospects and determine which might be right for you.
Lawyers can specialize in numerous fields, from real estate to criminal defense. Each type of law has its own particular requirements, responsibilities, and demands—and its own average salary.
Some of the specialties available to you as a lawyer are as follows, listed in order of highest-paying (on average) to lowest paying, according to PayScale.
High-Paying Fields of Law
- Intellectual Property Law
Intellectual property law deals with legal rights to inventions and creative works. An intellectual property lawyer’s job is to help decide who is allowed to profit from certain work products. Generally, the purpose of intellectual property law is to make sure that inventors or creators are allowed to profit from their own work.
As the field of technology continues to expand exponentially, intellectual property law attorneys are expected to become even more in demand in coming years.
The average salary of an attorney in intellectual property law is $126,334.
- Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice lawyers specialize in personal injury and health law. They focus on intentional or unintentional harm that comes to their clients during medical treatment, typically due to negligence.
The average salary of a medical malpractice attorney is $105,000.
- Tax Law
Tax attorneys specialize in helping clients—individuals or corporations—through the details of tax law to make the best financial decisions. Tax attorneys also work with individuals and companies who are undergoing audit processes.
Tax lawyers can work as part of an on-staff legal team at a major corporation or with a law firm assisting individual clients.
The average salary of a tax lawyer is $99,735.
- Corporate and Securities Law
The role of a corporate lawyer is in helping corporate clients conduct their affairs legally and efficiently. Responsibilities can range from the initial setup and incorporation of a new enterprise to managing compliance issues later on.
Corporate lawyers may work on staff at a law firm or as part of a company’s own full-time legal team. Corporate attorneys often benefit from large bonuses and profit-sharing programs in addition to their annual salary.
The average salary of an attorney in corporate and securities law is $98,327.
- Sports and Entertainment Law
Sports and entertainment is a booming business in the United States. Sports and entertainment attorneys specialize in legal representation for entertainers, professional sports teams, athletes, and coaches.
This type of lawyer typically focuses on contracts and provisions to protect the interests of their clients.
The average salary of a sports lawyer is $95,000.
- Real Estate Law
Real estate law focuses on land and construction, development and ownership, and tenant/landlord disputes.
As a real estate lawyer, you may work with residential or commercial purchases and deals as part of a law firm or government office.
The average salary of a real estate attorney is $82,711.
Lower-Paying Fields of Law
- Employment and Labor Law
A labor or employment attorney specializes in the relationship between companies and their employees. Matters can range from wages and compensation to harassment and discrimination.
As a labor attorney, you may represent individual clients, a government agency, a union, or an employer.
The average labor attorney’s salary is $82, 476.
- Criminal Law
There are two types of criminal lawyers: criminal defense lawyers and district attorneys or prosecutors.
District attorneys and prosecutors investigate crimes and initiate legal proceedings. Criminal defense lawyers represent those who have been charged with criminal offense.
- Personal Injury Law
A personal injury lawyer works with clients who have been intentionally or unintentionally harmed, either physically or psychologically. Personal injury can cover everything from collision injuries to defamation.
The most common types of personal injury cases are around auto accidents, defective products, pedestrian accidents, and insurance claims in bad faith. Personal injury law may also include some degree of medical malpractice law.
The average salary of a personal injury lawyer is $77,961.
- Family Law
As a family law attorney, you focus on legalities within the context of family relationships. Cases typically focus on child welfare, marriage and divorce, and domestic abuse.
Family law attorneys typically work as part of smaller law firms.
The average salary of a family law attorney is $71,726.
- Immigration Law
Immigration attorneys specialize in the complex field of immigration, which requires a great deal of expertise to navigate.
An immigration attorney may work with a small law firm which specializes in immigration, or with a larger law firm as part of an immigration department.
The average salary of an immigration attorney is $66,750.
There’s more to choosing a specialty than simply picking the one that pays the most. However, a clear picture of your financial prospects in each type of law can help you make the difficult decision.
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Highest Paying Legal Jobs
With a law degree (a juris doctor) from an American Bar Association-accredited school, and after passing the bar exam for your state, you may choose to go directly to work for a law firm or take an alternative path.
Most attorneys work in private and corporate legal offices, while others work for their local, state or federal government. But many of the highest-paying careers for lawyers aren’t in directly practicing law as an attorney.
Here are some of the alternative career paths you may choose if the above options aren’t for you, listed from highest-paying to lowest paying:
- Managing Partner
The average salary of a managing partner of a law firm is $180,249.
Many law school graduates have the goal of becoming a managing partner in a law firm, and for good reason. This is one of the highest-paying jobs you can take as a law school graduate. However, this is not an entry-level position. Becoming a managing partner will take long hours and hard work. But salaries can go higher than those of any other law career, reaching nearly $400,000 in larger cities and prestigious law firms.
- Congress Member
The base salary of members of the House and Senate (2019)is $174,000. Leadership positions pay more.
If you’re driven for the betterment of society—and you’re interested in a larger paycheck—you may want to pursue a career in politics. A law degree isn’t a requirement to become a member of congress, but it is the most common route.
The average salary for a judge in trial court is $142,978.
A judge is a type of lawyer who makes decisions regarding court cases. To become a judge, you’ll typically need many years of experience as a lawyer first, and you may need to undergo a nomination and election process.
- Law School Professor
The average law school professor salary is $138,834.
If you find yourself preferring the theory of law over the practice of it, and you enjoy helping others learn, you may want to pursue a career as a professor at a law school. Professors enjoy more regular hours than attorneys, but you’ll face heavy competition from other perspective professors.
Is Law School Worth It?
You need a law degree to become a lawyer in the United States, and attending a top school helps. However, attending law school and earning your degree doesn’t guarantee you a high-earning position.
Beyond law school, graduates must put in the time and work necessary to develop the skills required for their chosen field. Not everything required of you in your law career will be taught in law school.
Many graduates who leave law school with significant student loan debt may be left wondering whether their degree was worth the cost after all. If you’re considering attending law school, you may be wondering whether it’s worth the investment.
The National Jurist reports that 23% of graduates they surveyed who had over $100,000 in student debt “strongly agreed” that they law degree was worth the cost.
As is the case with other expensive college degree program, your law degree is an investment for which you want to gain the largest possible return. In order to make that happen faster, you can create a plan for after college and start building your career as soon as possible.
The National Jurist respondents also confirmed that they may have been disappointed by their law education and career prospects immediately after graduating, but that their appreciation for the degree grew as their careers developed.
Outlook for Lawyers in the Unites States
If you’re interested in law, your prospects are expected to remain steady or increase slightly over the coming years. Job growth up until the year 2026 is estimated at 8%–the same as the national average for jobs overall.
The median lawyer’s salary is set to remain consistently higher than the national average personal income, which was estimated at $31,099 in the 2016 census (census.gov). If you can create a plan for repaying student debt, law school is still a solid investment.
Average Attorney Salary Bottom Line
Your salary as a lawyer may not be the most important deciding factor when it comes to choosing where to live or which specialty to go into. But with the information provided in this article, you can make a more informed decision about your future legal career and, hopefully, pay down your student loans from law school that much faster.
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