Becoming a family lawyer is neither simple nor a quick process. The education alone takes 6-8 years including a bachelor’s degree. Education, exams, state licensing all play a role in being called to the bar, and then finding employment is something else to tackle.
Most family lawyers work with an established small or large firm with a few working independently. Salary will vary based on some of these factors. So, when asking how much does a family lawyer makes, there is no definite answer.
A family lawyer needs a substantial amount of education, which is one of the reasons their salary is higher than many other jobs. It begins with an undergraduate degree in criminal justice, criminology, or government. The higher the marks, the better for law school admissions.
If applying to family law, then courses in psychology and sociology are helpful as well. Getting to know the professors in undergrad work helps as students need letters of recommendation for law school from professors that know them and will be referenced.
Once the undergrad is almost completed, then the LSAT must be written. This is the Law School Admissions Test. It evaluates a student’s ability to think through things logically and with analytical skills. Those who land in the top percentiles will have more opportunity to choose where they want to attend law school. Better schools mean more opportunities with bigger firms offering higher salaries.
Once the BA is done, letters are written, the LSAT is taken, and acceptances are handed out, then law school begins. A Juris Doctor (JD) is usually done in 3 years if the student is full-time. It is the professional preparation for those who will be lawyers.
Schools accredited by the ABA (American Bar Association) are required and will prepare students not only for the basics of all law but also for specialized areas such as family law. Once again, hard work prevails as those at the top of their law classes are often sought out early by law firms and offered post-grad work.
Graduation from law school means onto the bar exam. Without being called to the bar, a lawyer cannot begin to practice law. There are different state exams as well as multiple cross-state exams but there is no ability to practice if at least one is not passed.
Education does not end with the bar exam. It continues throughout a family lawyer’s career. Continuing education credits must be earned regularly as mandated by the state regulatory body. Along with these credits, family lawyers have the option of working towards a Master of Law (LL.M.). If that is attained, then salary can be increased as well. Being well-educated and in the top tier gives a lawyer the ability to have a higher hourly rate when it comes to billable hours.
Specialization Under Family Law
While many lawyers will practice under the umbrella of family law, many will go further to specialize in a certain field. They can work in the field of divorce, children’s law, domestic abuse, or other specialized areas. Each one can have a slightly different salary range due to their specialized skills.
Related: What are the Types of Family Law?
Divorce lawyers are always the ones who tend to get a bad reputation. They have to be the tough one when it comes to the dissolution of a marriage. Being skilled in mediation and negotiation is what makes a divorce lawyer important. Laws vary from state to state and are constantly shifting as legislation changes. Divorce lawyers are going to help their clients determine how to navigate grounds for divorce as outlined by the state they are in.
Having a divorce lawyer who specializes in navigating the legalities of relationship breakdowns is important to help a client get a fair and just outcome. Dealing with pre-nuptial agreements, division of assets, and any support payments (alimony) for a partner all need to be assessed and agreed to.
Divorce lawyers are not just important in settling issues between spouses. They can also be involved in child custody and support issues. This takes someone who is not only compassionate but can help mediate what is best for the whole family putting the child first. Skill with negotiating visitation, custody, and support payments are critical.
The average salary for a Divorce lawyer in the US ranges between $72,000 and $96,000 depending on educational background, certifications, experience, and skill set. It will also depend on whether the lawyer is with a big or small firm or self-employed.
Domestic Abuse Lawyer
Domestic abuse is not surprisingly against the law in every state within the United States. A lawyer that specializes in the area of domestic abuse helps clients get restraining orders or a peace bond so they have documentation that can reduce the chance of their abusive partner getting to them.
The types of domestic abuses that take place range from violence between partners, violent resistance, and intimate terrorism. Domestic abuse lawyers can walk a client through the process of filling out and submitting forms properly for court as well as filing motions and working with the system to keep their client safe and protected. This can pertain to children as well as adults.
These types of family lawyers can also be prosecutors and defenders who are on either side of a domestic abuse case. Salaries range from $80, 000 to $120, 000 depending on the case, the client, the firm, and the experience of the lawyer. Those lawyers who are working on paperwork etc. with clients may make slightly less depending on how far they are representing the client into the case itself.
Child Support Lawyer/Child Advocate Lawyer
While this seems like a field that should be mixed in with divorce and relationship dealings, this one targets support for children. These lawyers tackle proceedings where child support needs to be collected from a parent or former spouse.
Paperwork, paternity tests, and court orders can play a part, as can dealing with parents who are not only out of state but out of the country. Child support lawyers can also assist step-parents to establish in loco parentis so they have a formalized intentional assumption of duties of what a biological or natural parent would have with the child.
If the lawyer is a child advocate lawyer, then they are specifically working to protect the child’s legal rights. They are to be the child’s voice in the courtroom and all legal matters of the minor. They will represent the child in cases of neglect, abuse, custody issues, adoption, visitation of parents, grandparents, and other central family members, as well as terminating parental rights and any court issues that involve them.
Child Support Lawyer salaries average at around $120,000. They make more if they are with a firm versus on their own. This salary can go up depending on their specialized training and years of experience. Child Advocate Lawyers are paid around $118, 000 if they are with the government, but can be more or less depending on if they are with a firm and also by what state they are practicing in.
General Salary Information
Family lawyers make a range of salaries based on a set of ever-changing variables. The top ten percent tend to make more than $208,000 per year and the bottom 10 percent make under $58,000. The opportunities in this field are growing and demand is high especially for those in specialty areas.
The salary for a family lawyer that has less than a year of experience on average is approximately $60,000 per year. With 1-4 years of experience, the compensation package averages in at almost $70,000. 5-9 years raises the average up to almost $83,000 and then moving to 10-18 years experience, it raises to about $86,000. 20+ years moves a family lawyer close to the $200,000 range.
These salaries are averages and the state where a family lawyer is practicing can make a substantial difference in pay. Los Angeles tends to pay 30% higher than average, Chicago 7% higher, and New York City 1% lower. This will really drop if the lawyer is in Dallas, Texas where salaries are down 22%.
So, while the averages are a good guide to what is standard pay, there are other factors such as state of practice, experience, specialty focus, and training, as well as whether it is government, small or large firm, or sole ownership practice. Each factor will affect what a family lawyer’s pay package might be.
It makes the most sense to find the average salary and then assume that extra education, experience, specialty skills, firm size, practice location, and successful client interactions will all play into how high a salary will go based on those variables.
There are unmovable factors such as experience but others such as education and state can often be altered to make being a family lawyer more enticing salary-wise. A family lawyer may often say that the increase in pay may not be as important as being in a small firm or solely owned one versus a big powerhouse firm. So, finding a healthy balance for both professional contentment along with a good salary plays into the situation.