One reason young people decide to join the legal profession is to make a fortune. All lawyers make lots of money. Is this statement true? Or is it a common myth? How much do lawyers make in 2023, according to the world report? Why do some lawyers choose a specific specialty and become disappointed?
The fact is that a lawyer can make different amounts of money depending on their specialty. Also, those practicing law for years know that many other factors can affect how much money one makes. This article will review different types of lawyers and their salaries, including various factors that may affect the salary.
What are the highest-paid lawyers?
The median annual wage for a lawyer’s salary was $96,307 in March 2023. An average starting lawyer’s salary is $75,275. Some of the highest-paid types of lawyers and most lucrative specialties include the following:
Patent attorneys (A median salary — $156,841 per year)
Patent lawyers are among the highest-paid types of lawyers and earn one of the highest median salaries in the legal field. These legal professionals advise clients about patents so their clients can obtain patents granted by patent offices around the world. The salary differs depending on the state (ranging from $69,703 to $236,610).
Entertainment lawyers (A median salary — $149,066 per year)
Entertainment lawyers advise and represent clients in the entertainment industry. Entertainment attorneys may help clients negotiate their salary, write a contract protecting their creative arts, or file a lawsuit to protect their rights. The salary range for these lawyers differs depending on the state (ranging from $11,291 to $242,749).
Medical lawyers (A median salary — $138,289 per year)
Medical attorneys are another high-paid attorney industry. The field of medical law is expansive, so legal professionals have a variety of areas to choose from. Medical lawyers can work in-house at a hospital, medical facility, or private practice to advise individuals about their rights. The salary differs depending on the state (ranging from $21,500 to $203,000).
Employment lawyers (A median salary — $135,713 per year)
Employment lawyers represent employees or employers regarding employment laws. They might help employers stay compliant with the latest labor and employment laws. Or they might help employers assert their legal rights to a fair wage and fair treatment at work. The salary ranges from $53,000 to $134,000).
Oil and gas attorneys (A median salary — $135,577 per year)
Oil and gas attorneys can become an excellent career choice, especially for those with prior regulated industry experience. Oil and gas professionals in law advise on the environmental, business, or economic consequences of pursuing particular corporate activities so clients can eliminate potential hazards and maximize profits. The salary is high across the states (ranging from $53,000 to $134,000).
Tax attorneys (A median salary — $123,365 per year)
A specialized tax attorney represents organizations dealing with federal, state, and local tax agencies. Corporations and large companies pay attorneys specializing in tax laws to protect assets and create tax savings plans.
U.S. tax law is highly complex, and tax attorneys must stay up-to-date with changes that may affect their clients. Tax professionals must continually study the changing structure of tax law, which involves continuous research and education. The salary across the states varies, ranging from $64,000 to $194,000.
Corporate lawyers (A median salary — $120,207 per year)
Corporate lawyers help corporations start, manage, run, and grow their businesses. Corporate lawyers also help corporations purchase or merge with another business or sell the company. They can work on an in-house legal team at the corporation or in a private law firm that advises corporations. The salary varies from state to state ($45,046 to $211,955).
We’ve covered what kind of lawyers make the most money, but many lawyers nationwide don’t focus on their paycheck. In addition to the mentioned types of attorneys, best trial attorneys, bankruptcy attorneys, probate law attorneys, and personal injury attorneys are other highly paid legal specialties. It is important to remember that a lawyer’s income depends on various factors, including the hours a lawyer puts in and their choices when pursuing a career.
Legal Careers That Don’t Pay Well
When you know what lawyers make the most money, you may wonder about the lowest-paid jobs for lawyers. Law pay is rare among legal professionals. Choosing law as a career comes with its motivations for each attorney. It is not unusual for lawyers to choose the legal field because they want to help others.
Others practice law to serve the greater good. There are populations highly dependent on the expertise of lawyers who are knowledgeable in established rules to protect their legal rights.
Attorneys can be found in every specialization but often work as public prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, and family law attorneys. Frequently, attorneys passionate about supporting the public are employed by non-profits and government agencies that assist disadvantaged populations.
What Factors Influence the Salaries of Attorneys?
In addition to a chosen specialty, many other factors can affect an attorney’s income. Factors at play include the law firm’s size, the attorney’s years of experience, and the geographic area.
Additionally, the law school someone attends can merit a higher salary. The type of legal career someone takes also impacts their earnings, as does whether they work in a for-profit or low-profit company. We cover these factors in more detail below.
1. Law firm size
Some attorneys never join a law firm and instead run their law practices. While this allows them the most flexibility, it often results in lower compensation. Another option is working for a large firm, some of which employ hundreds of attorneys nationwide and abroad.
Attorneys in large cities typically earn more than those in small towns and rural areas due to higher demand, cost of living, and competition among law firms. However, some attorneys prefer to work in smaller communities for the opportunity to build strong client relationships and make a local impact. Ultimately, deciding to practice law in a particular location depends on personal preferences, career goals, and financial considerations.
3. Law school
Not all law schools are equal, and the potential for higher earnings come with more prestigious schools, although that isn’t always the case. Some law students are better off spending half as much on school and starting their careers with less student debt. It can be a trade-off because it only matters who you work for and how well you perform.
4. Expertise and experience
An attorney’s income is primarily determined by their experience, skill set, reputation, and service demand. First-year associates typically earn less than seasoned partners, but specialization in high-demand areas and a strong track record of success can lead to higher salaries. Aspiring attorneys should consider their career goals and work to develop the necessary skills and experience to achieve them.
5. Legal aid vs. for-profit
In some of the nation’s most prominent law firms, first-year associates can earn six figures; however, lawyers working for nonprofit organizations, such as legal aid, generally earn less. Legal aid attorneys earned an average salary of $56,608 in 2023, according to Glassdoor. Salary ranges reported for lawyers working in legal aid ranged from $14,000 to $107,500 annually.
6. Sector of employment
Private-sector lawyers often earn salaries different from public-sector lawyers, such as those employed by federal, state, and municipal government agencies. To make government jobs more attractive to applicants from the private sector, the federal government aims to revise the salary ranges for positions in the General Service (GS) classification to ensure they are competitive with private-sector salaries. Generally, federal employee salaries should not differ more than 5 percent from private-sector salaries, according to the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990.
A public-sector job for an attorney is not always as lucrative as one in the private sector. According to ZipRecruiter, government lawyers made an average salary of $98,332 in 2023.
Lawyers are paid differently based on the clients they represent. Plaintiffs’ attorneys can earn hourly rates, retainers, and contingency fees if they represent parties that initiate lawsuits. Contingency fees are a percentage of the proceeds of a lawsuit or a settlement that a lawyer collects on behalf of his or her clients. They usually range from 25 to 40 percent. As in the case of plaintiffs, lawyers who represent defendants, who are being sued, may be paid by hourly rate, retainer, or a combination of the two.
8. Organizational hierarchy
Many law firms have a top-down hierarchy of equity partners, non-equity partners, senior associates, and junior associates. An equity partner or senior partner is a firm shareholder who gets a portion of its revenue and a salary based on her hourly rate charged to the firm’s clients. An employment website, PayScale, reports that the average salary for a law firm partner in the U.S. is $198,691 per year in 2023. Average pay ranged to $384,000 after commissions, bonuses, and profit-sharing.
9. In-house lawyers and academics
A company’s in-house counsel is a lawyer who works on behalf of the company instead of representing various clients independently as lawyers at law firms do. Attorneys who work as in-house counsel typically earn a salary the organization sets.
In February 2023, Salary.com reported that an in-house counsel’s salary median was $248,573. There was a reported salary range of $191,713 to $314,548 for lawyers working for in-house firms.
Teaching can be a lucrative step for lawyers as well. As of February 2023, Salary.com reported that law school professors earn a median salary of $191,372. Law school teachers reported an average salary range of $91,889 to $330,529.
Table of Average Salary of Different Types of Lawyers 2023 (From the Highest to the Lowest)
The salary range among lawyers can vary significantly. Attorneys in the public sector may make more or less than private ones, depending on the type of law they practice and the geographic area where they work. The median lawyer salaries aren’t representative of all lawyers. Instead, they reflect the midpoint in a wide range of compensation attorneys receive for legal services.
The fields of law that make the most money can vary depending on whether you are self-employed or working for a firm. Those who work in big law typically make more money than those at a smaller firm. Likewise, in-house positions may generate more income than contract or outsourced positions. Lawyers provide various services for consumers, businesses, and governments. As a result, their salary reflects the diversity of their experience, background, skills, practice setting, and the type of claims they handle.
How much do lawyers make an hour?
An attorney’s hourly wage depends on their overall salary. The base hourly rate also differs from the hourly rate if you add up their salary plus the benefits they receive (such as insurance, paid time off, and bonuses). According to ZipRecruiter, the average hourly wage of an attorney in the United States is $51 and ranges from $5.53 per hour to $137.74 per hour.
How much do immigration lawyers make?
According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for immigration attorneys in the United States is $74,749 as of March 2023. The salary range spans from $50,808 to $107,261.
How can lawyers make more money?
Lawyers can make more money by increasing their rate, changing how they bill for services (e.g., switching from flat rate to hourly), or switching to a more lucrative practice area. Another way to increase money as a lawyer is to move to a new location or change your practice setting (e.g., from private to public sector or vice versa).