What Is the Average Salary of a Lawyer?
There are many reasons why a career in law may appeal to you—it’s fulfilling, impactful work, perfect for people who are skilled communicators and pay close attention to detail, and has great job security.
But for some, the six-figure lawyer salary is a large selling point.
Becoming a lawyer is not easy, which is why this career has such a great professional outlook. Whether the impressive lawyer salary is a driving force towards the profession, or simply an added bonus to a career path you already know is right for you, this guide will provide important insight into lawyers’ income—from the average salary of a lawyer in general, to average salaries of lawyers based on specific fields, locations, and other individualized factors.
Average Lawyer Salaries
The average salary of a lawyer is $122,960, with the lowest 10% of all lawyers’ salaries falling below $59,670 and the highest 10% of salaries exceeding $208,000, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While that seems like a huge range, there are several factors that differentiate the average salary of a lawyer: how long you’ve been a lawyer, what state you’re practicing in, and what field you’re working in. Below, we’ll break it down in detail.
Average Lawyer Salary: Experience-Based
Here is an overall look at how the average salary of a lawyer increases the longer you’ve been practicing, according to salary survey site PayScale:
- 1 year of experience (or less) – $62,000
- 1-4 years of experience – $72,000
- 5-9 years of experience – $96,000
- 10-19 years of experience – $110,000
- 20 years of experience (or more) – $127,000
Considering the pay of most jobs right out of college or graduate school, entry-level lawyers make an impressive salary—and these figures include tips, bonuses, and overtime pay, which means that depending on how successful you are, you could easily be making more than average.
Average Lawyer Salary: State-to-State
Lawyer salaries are largely influenced by location. For instance, bigger cities have more people and a higher cost of living, which makes wages higher. Lawyers are in higher demand in regions like Silicon Valley, where the average lawyer salary is $207,950, and Washington DC, where the average is $179,980, according to the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal.
Keep in mind that there are different requirements for becoming a lawyer depending where you want to work. Plus, whether you plan on working for a law firm or opening your own practice will also influence your base salary. Viewing lawyer salaries by state is still very telling. Despite city and regional differences, it’s an easy way to get a ballpark figure of how much you’d be making by working in the area.
These are the top 10 highest-paying states for lawyers to work in, according to Forbes Magazine:
- California – $171,550
- New York – $167,110
- Massachusetts – $165,610
- Connecticut – $153,640
- Illinois – $152, 980
- Texas – $150,250
- Colorado – $147,560
- Arizona – $145,750
- Virginia – $139,180
- New Jersey – $139,020
Here are the 10 lowest-paying states, according to the same data, in descending order:
- Montana – $88,6000
- Mississippi – $97,990
- West Virginia – $98,630
- Arkansas – $98,780
- Idaho – $99,360
- Kentucky – $100,100
- South Carolina – $105,320
- Louisiana – $105,490
- Wyoming – $105,600
- New Mexico – $105,910
The remaining 30 states’ average lawyer salaries fall between the range of $138,920 (Nevada) and $107,120 (Maine), so needless to say, you’ll be making a six-figure salary in all but five states: Montana, Mississippi, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Idaho—not to say it isn’t possible.
After all, these are just the averages.
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Average Lawyer Salary: Unique Factors
There are a number of individualized factors that play a role in pay discrepancies—who you are, what field you specialize in, and where you work.
Gender Wage Gap
Through extensive data collection of wages, bonuses, and profit-sharing from solo attorneys and attorneys at law firms, women were found to make 36% less than their male counterparts, a potential difference of roughly $79,000 every year, according to the ABA Journal.
This isn’t specific to law professions by any means—women have long been known to make less than men despite working the very same jobs.
What is specific to lawyers, however, is much more positive news: as of 2017, the gender wage gap for practicing attorneys has been shrinking.
Field of Law
There are also different salaries depending on practice area, meaning the specific field of law you specialize in. The average annual salary of a lawyer in the following fields has been provided by the LSAT site Test Max Prep:
- Corporate lawyers ($174,000) – Out of all fields, these lawyers make the most money: six-figure salaries are to be expected and seven-figure salaries aren’t that uncommon. Corporate lawyers fight on behalf of big corporations, and quite often, the bigger the company, the bigger the paycheck.
- Intellectual property lawyers ($141,000) – This field, sometimes referred to as a sector of Entertainment Law, is a growing industry thanks to our increasingly technological world. As a lawyer in this field, you represent media companies, pharmaceutical and tech companies, and the food industry.
- Medical malpractice lawyers ($130,880) – Working in this field allows you to support a good cause as well as make a great paycheck. Misdiagnosis, poor medical care, omissions, oversights, and botched surgeries can lead patients to sue hospitals, doctors, nurses, and even therapists. Typically, these claims reach a settlement in court, which benefits you and your client.
- Law professors ($125,000) – While this isn’t technically a field of law, and would typically require you to work as a lawyer beforehand, entering a teaching profession is still a great option. Some factors that affect pay are tenure versus non-tenure, the school’s reputation and ranking, and the department’s endowment.
- Government lawyers ($118,160) – Government lawyers represent the city, state, or country against criminals. At a local level, the average annual salary is $91,950, at a state level, $88,020, and at a federal level, $139,460.
- Tax lawyers ($101,000) – From large corporations to small businesses, tax attorneys are often kept on retainer because of how often they’re used and how important their jobs are—they can help assist with an audit and navigate any trouble with the IRS. Many individuals seek assistance from tax lawyers for the same reasons.
- Personal injury lawyers ($78,020) – Personal injury lawyers often work on contingency fees, meaning that they receive a percentage of their clients’ winnings, and for that reason, the salaries vary greatly.
- Real estate lawyers ($72,730) – Lawyers who are involved in property buying, selling, and leasing issues often have a lower stress level than other fields of law, while still receiving a substantial salary.
- Family lawyers ($69,480) – Family lawyers cover a wide range of issues, from divorce, to domestic abuse, to child adoption and child custody, which results in a wide range of pay. The scenarios at hand can be emotional and require someone who is in it not just for the money, but for the cause.
- Immigration lawyers ($65,061) – Immigration law, often associated with International law, focuses on the legal requirements people face when planning to immigrate to a new country, and also can handle issues faced by refugees.
Understanding the Profession
Before we dive into salaries, having an understanding of what a lawyer does and what it takes to become one is an important part of deciding if the career path truly is a good fit for you.
While lawyers make a substantial living, making sure you’re willing to put in the time to get there and see yourself enjoying the profession is necessary—before dedicating your life to any career, you need to have a good grasp of what it entails.
What Does a Lawyer Do?
A lawyer is someone who advises and represents individuals, groups of people (such as class action lawsuits or families), businesses, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations as they face legal issues or disputes locally and internationally.
Lawyers, also called attorneys, compile evidence and argue on behalf of their client in a court of law. They often oversee support staff, such as paralegals, legal assistants, and legal secretaries, no matter if they’re working as an individual or part of a corporation, or what field of law they’re in.
How Do You Become a Lawyer?
Becoming a lawyer is one of the most common career choices for people pursuing a criminal justice degree in their undergraduate studies, but becoming a lawyer isn’t as simple as getting a four-year degree. Whether you want to be a personal injury lawyer, an immigration lawyer, or criminal lawyer, all attorneys have to first attend a four-year university before they can attend law school. Here is a summary of the overall steps:
- Undergraduate degree – Nearly all law schools require a bachelor’s degree in a pre-law field—such as criminal justice—or another rigorous degree, typically in the field of social sciences like history, art history, political science, business, anthropology, or English.
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- Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) – To get accepted into law school, you have to take the LSAT. Scores account for as much as 70% of an admission committee’s decision, according to LSAT experts at Strategy Prep.
- Graduate JD degree – The Juris Doctorate degree, also known as the Doctor of Jurisprudence degree, or simply JD degree, is what you’ll be pursuing in graduate school.
- Bar exam – After you graduate, you’ll have to take one or more bar exams, depending on your state and jurisdiction requirements. To become a practicing lawyer, you not only have to pass the bar exam, but be found by an admitting board to be a person of good character.
- Continuing education – To continue practicing law in your state, you will be required to take continuing education courses every one to three years to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in the profession.
The overall process, from beginning to end, takes a minimum of seven years.
However, the payoff is well worth it.
Starting the Path Towards a Law Career
Even if you’re making the least amount of money as a lawyer, you’re still making more than most people in the workforce. Being a lawyer is rewarding—both financially and emotionally—so if you’re interested in law, you should start taking steps towards making it your career.
At Alliant International University you can get the education you need to become a lawyer—whether you’re looking for an undergraduate pre-law degree or a graduate JD degree.
If you are an aspiring lawyer, we can help you get to where you want to be. Whether you want to be a family lawyer, a criminal defense lawyer, or an immigration lawyer, you can have confidence knowing you are getting the best education with Alliant University. Contact our team today to learn more about how you can get started!
- Strategy Prep. JD Admissions Timeline. https://www.strategyprep.com/tools/law-school-timeline.php#2
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. Lawyers. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm
- PayScale. Average Attorney / Lawyer Salary. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Attorney_%2F_Lawyer/Salary
- American Bar Association Journal. What lawyers earn in 2019. https://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/what-lawyers-earn
- Forbes. Here’s How Much Money Lawyers Make in Every State. https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewdepietro/2019/11/18/lawyer-salary-st…
- Test Max Prep. Average Lawyer Salaries by Field. https://testmaxprep.com/blog/lsat/average-lawyer-salaries-by-field