Lawyers: Salary Overview
Lawyers, also known as attorneys, are certified professionals who represent individuals, businesses, and government agencies on legal issues.
They may have different job titles and job duties depending on where they work and their specialty.
Some work for law agencies as criminal law attorneys or defense attorneys while others are employed by federal, state, or local governments as prosecutors.
Others work as corporate counsels and advise corporation executives on legal issues related to business activities.
Public-interest lawyers work for nonprofits and other organizations that offer legal services for disadvantaged people.
Lawyers can specialize in legal fields such as environmental laws and regulations, tax laws, intellectual property law, security law, or family law.
A lawyer’s job description typically includes representing clients in courts, communicating with clients, communicating with other lawyers and judges, conducting research on legal problems, interpreting laws and rulings, presenting facts to their clients, argue on behalf of their clients, and preparing and filing legal documents.
They often collaborate with support staff, such as paralegals and legal assistants.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for lawyers was $122,960 in May 2019.
This means that half the workers in this occupation earned less than this amount while half earned more.
Salaries vary widely depending on the lawyer’s experience, reputation, education, the field of employment, employer, and practice area.
The highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000 per year while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $59,670.
Hourly rates for lawyers also vary depending on the lawyer’s experience, education, skills, and many other factors.
Entry-level lawyers may earn less than $30 while experienced lawyers can make much more than $100 an hour.
The number of hours worked will also affect a lawyer’s earnings, especially if he/she is paid primarily an hourly wage.
Lawyer Salary by Industry
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyers held about 823,900 jobs in 2018.
Many of them (approximately 48%) worked for businesses that provide legal services.
According to the numbers published by BLS, 20% of all lawyers were self-employed and 7 percent worked for local governments.
State governments hired approximately 6 percent of all lawyers while 5% of them worked for the federal government.
Average annual wages vary widely depending on the field of employment.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyers who worked in the field of legal services earned a mean annual wage of $150,410 as of May 2019.
The average annual salary was $106,990 for lawyers employed by local governments and $94,050 for those who worked for state governments.
The federal executive branch offered an average salary of $139,720 a year, higher than the average for this profession.
Lawyers who worked in the field of management of companies and enterprises were paid, on average, with $180,780 a year.
The highest average salary for lawyers was reported in the field of cable and other subscription programming- an industry that paid attorneys with around $224,970 per year.
The motion picture and video industry offered an average annual wage to lawyers of $216,800.
Lawyers who worked in the field of the highway, street, and bridge construction earned, on average, $215,850 per year while those employed in the field of computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing were paid with an average annual wage of $210,310.
However, only a few lawyers work in these high-paying fields.
For example, the field of cable and other subscription programming hired only 190 lawyers in 2019.
Competition for jobs in these fields is expected to be strong and may employers may prefer lawyers who have several years of experience in a law company.
The above information applies only to salaried lawyers; it doesn’t include lawyers who are self-employed.
According to BLS, lawyers who own their own legal practice usually earn less than those who work for established law firms or other businesses.
Lawyer Salary by Practice Area
Lawyer salaries vary not only depending on experience and employer but also depending on the practice area.
According to payscale.com, patent attorneys earned an average salary of $136,357 a year, as of April 2020, while public defenders made only $61,790 a year, on average, as of May 2020.
The average annual salary was $103,712 for trial lawyers and $87,636 for divorce lawyers, according to the same source.
In conclusion, is you want to become a lawyer, you should know that wages in this field vary widely, based on a multitude of factors.
Entry-level public defenders earn somewhere in the range of $40,000 a year while experienced lawyers who practice patent law or family law can earn more than $250,000 per year.
* Based on information from the May 2019 salary report from the BLS. The figures represent accumulated data for all states of employment for Lawyers. BLS data represents averages and medians for workers at all levels of education and experience. This data doesn't represent starting salaries.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.