If you’re getting into law just to make money, this may not be a career for you. Lawyers are responsible for working on some sensitive cases that can alter the outcome of people’s lives. Keeping this in mind, there is much more to the law than just money.
However, money is a motivating factor in any career. For recent graduates from law school with heavy debts, getting a good paying legal job is likely a top priority. Also, listening to an experienced lawyer with a six-figure salary might tell new associates not to worry about the money can be demotivating.
Instead, let’s take a look at which lawyers are making the most money.
High Paying vs. Low Paying Salaries
Whether working at a law firm or as a solo practitioner, lawyers, in general, make a decent amount of money.
According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, these are some of the published salaries for lawyers in America. On the lower end, the average salary is just over $50,000. In comparison, some of the top paying salaries can earn over $200,000.
There are two major factors that influence the amount of money a lawyer earns which are location and area of specialization.
Highest Paying Cities for Lawyers
Depending on where you practice law, you could also earn more money. According to the BLS, the following states offer the highest salaries: California, New York, Florida, and Texas.
Highest Paying States for Lawyers
Some states have a higher salary than others. Here are the best paying states with the highest mean salaries according to the BLS: District of Columbia, California, New York, Massachusetts.
Highest Paying Industries for Lawyers
If you’re an in-house lawyer, you can earn more money depending on which industry they work for. Here’s the what the BLS says are the highest paying industries for lawyers: Scheduled Air Transportation, Industrial Machinery Manufacturing, Beer, Wine and Distilled Beverages, Semiconductors and Other Electronics.
Highest Paying Government Lawyers
There are some positions in government that pay significantly more than others. Public interest lawyers often have the lowest salaries whereas lawyers at the federal level can earn six figures. Here is a summary of the top paying government salaries for lawyers from the BLS: Federal Government, Local Government, State Government.
Highest Paying Law Firms
If you’re wondering which law firms offer the most money, that’ll depend on whether you are a partner or just an associate. The following law firms are some of the top-earning firms in America as of 2016: Latham & Watkins; Baker & McKenzie; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom; Kirkland & Ellis; and Clifford Chance.
Here’s a look at those numbers in more detail:
|Year Established||Yearly Revenue||Profit
|Profit per Lawyer|
|Latham & Watkins||1934||$2.65B||50%||$606,000|
|Baker & McKenzie||1949||$2.62B||35%||$183,000|
|Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom||1948||$2.41B||51%||$727,000|
|Kirkland & Ellis||1909||$2.3B||55%||$771,000|
Source of Law Firm Statistics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_law_firms_by_revenue
What does the salary look like for a solo practitioner? Information for the amount of money earned by solo practitioners gets released each year by the IRS. Often, these lawyers have considerably lower salaries than those listed above.
In 2012, salaries were reported to be as low as $50,000. However, this amount is often seen as the starting salary for new solo practitioners.
The reason why solo practitioners have a lower salary could be due to the fact they are responsible for all aspects of their legal services. If it is not in their budget to hire legal staff to reduce time spent on menial tasks such as administrative and financial related duties, it can limit their salary.
On the other hand, there are various affordable solutions for lawyers to make their legal services more efficient and effective. Legal software help lawyers to free up more time to work with clients and network.
One thing to remember is that pursuing a career in law should not be for the money. Instead, pursuing a business career may prove to be more lucrative if money is a lawyer’s true motivation.