We tend to assume that anyone who studies law or medicine brings in an above-average income.
For the most part, we are right.
Nevertheless, just like in medicine, the income levels within the law industry vary across specialties. For example, take a cardiothoracic surgeon. Every doctor goes through the same eight years of college and medical school. However, not every Board Certified individual is allowed to perform heart surgery. Individuals who complete their traditional education have to complete additional training in the specialty they are interested in practicing. If their chosen specialty is cardiothoracic surgery, they will be required to complete a supplementary seven to eight years of residency and training.
Granted, individuals who become cardiothoracic surgeons, on average, tend to make more money than any of the law specialties we are about to discuss. However, it is necessary to realize that there tends to be a positive correlation between the years of training required for the job and the jobs that bring in the big bucks. This same concept applies to practicing law. So, what type of lawyer makes the most money?
The short answer is patent attorneys make the most money with a yearly salary of about $176,000. Let us review why that is the case and go over other legal specialties that come very close to that mark.
What Does a Patent Attorney Do?
The job of a patent attorney is an interesting one. Patent attorneys have to understand the science behind new or improved technologies so they can explain it to a jury in a simplified yet convincing manner. These attorneys tend to represent entrepreneurs, inventors, or large corporations to argue how their technology is different from what is already on the market. Before patent applications are drafted, patent attorneys devise strategies and advise their clients on how to protect the rights of their intellectual property. Patent applications are explanations of how the invention works, its differences from what is already on the market, and why it should be protected with a patent.
Lawyers who represent clients interested in only enforcing their patent rights do not need special training. However, any attorneys interested in patent prosecution must pass an examination known as the patent bar exam. Eligibility for the exam is dependent on technical training or a degree in engineering or other specified sciences.
Does Where You Go to Law School Matter?
The answer to this question might make you consider law schools that were previously not on your radar. There is a common stigma around the idea of graduating from a lower-ranked law school. This stigma leaves many students overly fixated on insignificant differences within the programs. Instead of fixating on school ranking, students need to evaluate whether the schools are in large legal markets with enough demand. They should also determine whether the schools match their desired school culture. When choosing law schools, students should have a futuristic outlook on building their future careers and ensuring the place they choose has enough opportunities to do so.
After completing the first year of law school, it may be a good idea or even a program requirement to complete one or several internships. The internships provide students with hands-on experience in the legal field. They may also act as a foot in the door for a job once the student graduates. In addition to this, the advantage of staying in the area may provide students with networking opportunities and access to local alumni. Networking opportunities are often the key to employment which may not be available if the student plans to move away upon graduation. With all things considered, going to school in an area where you intend to live may be a good idea after all.
What Are Other Law Specialties? How Much Do They Make?
Salaries within the law industry vary widely depending on the geographic region of where an individual chooses to practice. The salaries are usually dependent on the cost of living or the labor cost of the given region. For instance, being a lawyer in New York City is probably more extravagant when compared to being a lawyer in Wyoming or Kansas. Due to this, many students decide to move to more dense metropolitan areas to go to law school. This allows them to gain exposure and make sure there is enough demand for their services.
The salary estimates given below are based on the median average annual salary in Chicago, IL in 2021.
Corporate Lawyer: $140,000
Corporate law is a relatively new sector of law when compared to other specializations. This sector is growing profoundly and has gained the interest of many students applying for law school. A corporate lawyer’s day-to-day responsibilities include advising clients with business transactions, preparing contracts, and assisting with mergers and acquisitions, to name a few. Because corporate law can get very broad depending on the clientele, some corporate lawyers may choose to specialize in topics like bankruptcy, tax or zoning, and securities. Although most corporate lawyers are part of a legal team within a corporation, some lawyers choose to be self-employed. Self-employed lawyers get hired as a fresh set of eyes to present a new perspective to the team.
Trial Attorney: $112,000
Up next, trial attorneys. These attorneys partake in litigation that can be both civil and criminal. A day in the life of an attorney on an out-of-court day is often spent reviewing files, researching facts, and reaching out to possible witnesses. Once the evidence is collected, the remaining days are spent building a case that will best persuade the jury of the facts. Trial attorneys need to be ready for any piece of evidence that can be spun around to squash the case they have built for their client. In addition to facts, these individuals must possess excellent communication skills and the ability to think on their feet. The preparation for a trial does not happen overnight. It is often a process that takes several months.
Medical Lawyer: $106,000
Becoming a medical lawyer is often depicted as filing malpractice lawsuits for the remainder of your life. Even if you never had to work with a medical lawyer before, you might have seen their advertisements. Likely, you passed by a billboard that said, “Were you denied medical care? Call us now!”. Just like the world of medicine, with its endless segments and specialties, medical lawyers have a large spectrum of work they can do. While malpractice is still an option, work concerning public policy, medical benefits, and bioethics can be classified under the health law.
Immigration Lawyer: $106,000
Before choosing the type of law to specialize in, it is important to realize that the United States has more foreign-born people than any country in the world. With that, one could assume the demand for legal immigration services may be high especially in big cities where immigrants tend to settle. The services an immigration lawyer may provide include but are not limited to advising clients on legal matters on their immigration status, applying for citizenship, and helping people with gaining access to work, student, or travel visas. In addition, immigration lawyers may provide legal assistance in obtaining political asylum. If a case cannot be resolved through USCIS, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the lawyer is responsible for appearing in court upon receipt of a Notice to Appear.
Tax Attorney: $105,000
With an average salary of $105,000, we round out our list with tax attorneys. Tax season is soon upon us and it would probably be wise to research what tax attorneys do and whether we should be hiring one for ourselves. It seems that there is some confusion in who we should hire if we are experiencing legal issues relating to taxes, a CPA or a tax attorney. Although a CPA helps individuals prepare taxes and communicate with the IRS, they may not be able to represent you if you are facing liens, need assistance settling back taxes, or stopping wage garnishment. Despite specializing in the legal side of tax preparation, tax attorneys are not required to have a CPA license to practice tax law.