If you’re considering a career in law, one of the most common questions you may have is, “How much do lawyers make?” While the answer to this question varies depending on a number of factors, such as location, experience, and area of law, there are some general salary trends to be aware of. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how much lawyers make and what factors impact their salaries.
Understanding Lawyer Salaries
Lawyers are among the highest-paid professionals in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for lawyers as of May 2020 was $126,930. This means that half of all lawyers earned more than this amount, while the other half earned less. However, it’s important to note that this figure represents the median salary across all areas of law and levels of experience.
Factors That Affect Lawyer Salaries
A number of factors can impact how much lawyers make. Some of the most important factors to consider include:
Area of Law
The area of law in which a lawyer practices can have a significant impact on their salary. Some areas of law, such as intellectual property or corporate law, tend to be more lucrative than others, such as public interest law or family law. Additionally, lawyers who specialize in high-stakes litigation or complex transactions may be able to command higher salaries than those who focus on routine legal matters.
Geographic location is another important factor to consider when looking at lawyer salaries. In general, lawyers who practice in major cities or in areas with a high cost of living tend to earn more than those who practice in smaller towns or rural areas. This is due in part to the higher demand for legal services in urban areas, as well as the higher salaries that law firms and corporations in these areas are able to offer.
As with most professions, experience plays a key role in determining a lawyer’s salary. Generally speaking, lawyers with more years of experience tend to earn higher salaries than those who are just starting out. This is because experienced lawyers are often more efficient at their work and have a better understanding of the legal system, which allows them to command higher rates.
Salary Trends in the Legal Industry
In addition to understanding the factors that impact lawyer salaries, it’s also helpful to take a look at some broader salary trends in the legal industry. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Private Practice vs. In-House
Lawyers who work in private practice (i.e., at law firms) tend to earn more than those who work in-house (i.e., for corporations or non-profit organizations). This is because law firms are able to bill clients at higher rates than in-house lawyers, which allows them to pay their attorneys more. Additionally, law firms often offer bonuses and other incentives to their top performers, which can further boost their salaries.
Big Law vs. Small Law
Within the private practice sphere, there are also differences in salary based on the size of the law firm. Lawyers who work at large, “Big Law” firms tend to earn more than those who work at smaller firms. This is because larger firms are often able to take on high-profile cases and clients, which allows them to command higher rates.
Public Interest Law
Finally, it’s worth noting that lawyers who work in public interest law (i.e., for non-profit organizations or government agencies) tend to earn less than those who work in private practice. This is because public interest organizations often have limited budgets and may not be able to pay their attorneys as much as law firms or corporations can.
So, how much do lawyers make? The answer is, it depends. Factors such as location, experience, and area of law all play a role in determining a lawyer’s salary. However, in general, lawyers are among the highest-paid professionals in the United States, with a median annual wage of $126,930 as of May 2020.
If you’re considering a career in law, it’s important to do your research and understand the various factors that can impact your salary. By specializing in a high-demand area of law, practicing in a major city or urban area, and gaining years of experience, you can increase your earning potential as a lawyer.
What is the average starting salary for a lawyer?
The average starting salary for a lawyer varies depending on a number of factors, but according to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), the median starting salary for new lawyers in 2020 was $72,500.
Do lawyers who work for the government make less than those in private practice?
In general, lawyers who work for the government (i.e., for agencies or non-profit organizations) tend to earn less than those in private practice. However, there are exceptions, and some government agencies may offer competitive salaries and benefits.
How much can lawyers in Big Law firms earn?
Lawyers in Big Law firms can earn very high salaries, with some partners making millions of dollars per year. However, these salaries are typically reserved for top performers with many years of experience.
What are some of the most lucrative areas of law?
Some of the most lucrative areas of law include intellectual property, corporate law, and high-stakes litigation.
Do lawyers have to pass a certain exam to practice law?
Yes, in order to practice law in the United States, lawyers must pass the bar exam in the state where they wish to practice.