Over the past few years, I’ve watched many friends of mine make the huge decision to apply for law school and embark on the difficult journey of becoming a lawyer. I often wonder why so many people want to make the leap into this profession, but I think in many instances, the decision comes down to one thing: money. That said, do lawyers make good money?
Yes, lawyers do make good money. Compared to the extensive list of alternative career paths available in the United States, a law career is considered to be one of the most lucrative. The average salary of a lawyer is approximately $126,000 per year. When broken down into an hourly wage, lawyers make approximately $61.03 per hour.
Are all lawyers rich?
No, all lawyers are not rich. While some lawyers make upwards of $200,000 per year, not all lawyers find themselves in this financial position. There are many factors that ultimately play into a lawyer’s salary: level of experience, education, type of law job, and if the lawyer is self-employed or part of a law firm. Just like any career, getting to a point where you are making over $200,000 per year takes significant time and dedication.
As a lawyer, will you make more money working for a law firm or by running your own private practice?
When it comes time for lawyers to decide how they want to navigate the industry, they are confronted with 2 choices: they can either work for a law firm or run their own private practice. Both options certainly have their pros and cons, so let’s break it down. If a lawyer decides to run his or her own private practice, this decision comes with a great deal more freedom and flexibility. However, with this freedom and flexibility comes a price. Literally. Lawyers who run their own private practices tend to bring home less money per year than those lawyers who opt to work at a law firm. With the higher salary that typically comes with working for a law firm, lawyers who choose to go down this path tend to have a much more regimented schedule.
What types of lawyers tend to make the most money?
Here are the 5 top-paid types of lawyers:
- Medical Attorneys: The salary of a medical attorney is one of the highest (if not the highest) in the legal field. While the exact job description for a medical attorney varies depending on the organization he/she works for, these lawyers frequently advise hospitals and other healthcare organizations or take care of personal injury cases or medical malpractice claims.
- Intellectual Property Attorneys: In the rapidly growing world of intellectual property (IP), these lawyers typically deal with patents, trademarks, and copyrights. As a result of this field’s rapid growth and evolution, these lawyers must continuously stay “in-the-know” when it comes to the ever-changing laws and procedures. That’s why they make the big bucks!
- Tax Lawyers: Corporations and other large companies pay tax lawyers a hefty amount of money to help protect their assets and develop tax savings plans. Similar to intellectual property attorneys, these lawyers are required to stay up-to-date on the incredibly complex United States tax laws and potential changes that will have an impact on their clients.
- Corporate Lawyers: It’s no secret that the responsibilities of a corporate lawyer are incredibly vast. These lawyers offer advice on business transactions, acquisitions, and mergers, buying and selling businesses, running corporations, filing the company’s legal documents, preparing and reviewing company contracts to ensure they are in the company’s favor, sourcing venture capital, and creating new corporations. What don’t these lawyers do?!
- Trial Attorneys: You guessed it! Trial attorneys are responsible for defending their clients before a court of law. Since trials can usually be quite unpredictable, these lawyers need to be very quick on their feet and ready to handle whatever gets thrown their way. In order to be successful, these lawyers must also be well-versed in the art of persuasive speaking.
What are the average salaries for the 5 top-paid types of lawyers?
The average salaries for the 5 top-paid types of lawyers range somewhere between $118,000 – $250,000. Here are the average salaries broken down for each type of lawyer, in order from lowest to highest:
- Corporate Lawyers: $118,000
- Tax Lawyers: $122,000
- Trial Attorneys: $144,000
- Intellectual Property Attorneys: $163,000
- Medical Attorneys: $250,000
Keep in mind that these are the average salaries, so an individual in any of these roles has the potential to make a higher (or lower) salary.
Do law professors make good money?
Yes. You don’t have to be a practicing lawyer to make good money! Law professors have the potential to make a comparable salary to the 5 top-paid types of lawyers. As of March 2021, law professors were said to make an average salary of $173,258. Not bad if I do say so myself.
What are the best-paying cities and states for lawyers?
If you want to maximize your income as a lawyer, here are the 5 best-paying cities and states for lawyers:
5 Best-Paying Cities for Lawyers:
- San Jose, California – $231,610
- San Francisco, California – $201,920
- Washington D.C. – $186,070
- Los Angeles, California – $180,220
- New York, New York – $180,160
5 Best-Paying States for Lawyers:
- District of Columbia – $197,100
- California – $179,470
- New York – $174,060
- Massachusetts – $169,120
- Connecticut – $158,190
As you cansee, practicing law in D.C., California, or in the Tri-State area (NYC) are your best bets for making the highest possible salary.
Which law schools are known for producing the most highly paid lawyers?
When it comes to applying for law school, we all know there’s a definitive list of the highest ranking law schools across the country. Even for people who don’t practice law themselves, these law schools are esteemed and widely recognized. Generally speaking, the “top” law schools have been given that ranking because they offer their graduates the best chances of being offered a highly competitive salary at one of the most prestigious law firms in the country upon graduation. Without further ado, here are the top 10 law schools with the highest average salaries for their graduates:
- Cornell University – $183,377
- Columbia University – $177,962
- New York University – $177,203
- University of Chicago – $174,238
- Harvard University – $173,578
- Georgetown University – $173,464
- Northwestern University – $173,204
- Yale University – $171,779
- University of Pennsylvania – $170,954
- Duke University – $169,096
If you’re interested in applying to law school and want to ensure you’ll make the highest possible salary, attending one of these 10 schools will certainly get you as close as possible to that goal.
What other jobs make a comparable salary to that of a lawyer?
Within the past couple years, studies have shown that these 3 alternative careers have a comparable salary to that of a lawyer. As you’ll notice, many of these jobs have some similarities to the role of a lawyer as well.
Financial Manager – $151,510
As a financial manager, you’ll be expected to oversee a company’s finances. This entails coordinating accounting and generating financial reports such as cash flow statements and profit projections. Financial managers must have a deep understanding of numbers and must also be able to communicate the meaning of these numbers to the company as needed.
Political Scientist – $124,100
A political scientist is someone who develops a deep understanding of government and politics in theory and in practice, including topics such as international relations, government operations, local administration, etc. People in this role typically work for the federal government, universities, or national nonprofits.
Actuary – $123,180
An actuary is someone who measures, manages, and mitigates financial risk and uncertainty. In order to perform this work to the best of their abilities, an in-depth understanding of mathematics, statistics, and financial theory is required. Actuaries have an incredibly important role in the insurance industry and are actively establishing themselves as key players in a variety of other industries as well.
If being a lawyer isn’t in the cards for you but you’re still interested in making a similar salary, a future in one of these 3 roles could provide a better alternative.
What does the future hold for lawyers and their incomes?
Good news! In the next few years, more and more jobs for lawyers will be popping up across the United States. In fact, by 2028, the job outlook for lawyers is expected to increase by 6%. But with good news always comes the not-so-good news. Despite this projected 6% increase, there still may not be enough jobs available for the amount of people in the market.
Additionally, law firms across the country are starting to employ paralegals or other non-attorney professionals to spearhead research, prep work, etc. in order to cut down costs. Historically, this work has been performed by lawyers but firms are beginning to rethink this tactic. With this supply and demand issue paired with a concerted effort to cut costs, will lawyers see their average salaries start to decrease? Only time will tell.