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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“College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply. (1)College Ave Refi Education loans are not currently available to residents of Maine. (2)The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as the borrower or cosigner, if applicable, enrolls in auto-pay and authorizes our loan servicer to automatically deduct your monthly payments from a valid bank account via Automated Clearing House (“ACH”). The rate reduction applies for as long as the monthly payment amount is successfully deducted from the designated bank account and is suspended during periods of forbearance and certain deferments. Variable rates may increase after consummation. (3)$5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees. (4)This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. Information advertised valid as of 12/14/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.”
ELFI: Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply. To qualify for refinancing or student loans consolidation through ELFI, you must have at least $15,000 in student loan debt and must have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher from an approved post-secondary institution.
LendKey: Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
CommonBond: Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate.
Splash Financial: Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval.com
Earnest: To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest’s fixed-rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with autopay) to 7.89% APR (with autopay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.50% APR (with autopay) to 7.27% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms of 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 0.26% and 5.03% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of April 23, 2019 and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay Discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 04/23/19. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice.
Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 303 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, e-mail us at email@example.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.