A lawyer is one of the most lucrative and respected professions in America today. Many great people work as lawyers and we might not know their names but we can be sure that they play an important role in helping and defending us and our country every day. But how do they exactly make money? And which ones make the most?
There are many different specialties that lawyers practice in, with some making more money than others. For example, if you’re in the business of IP law, you can make anywhere from $70,000 to $250,000 per year or more.
On the other hand, if you’re an employment lawyer working with unions, you may only make around $20,000 to $50,000 per year. What’s surprising though is that even though there are different rates of pay, all lawyers have similar needs when it comes to their careers and their lives.
The Most Successful Lawyers Are Self-starters
When you’re doing your own thing, you don’t have a boss to tell you what to do or how to do it. You decide how much effort and time you want to put into marketing yourself, networking with others, and building a relationship with clients.
If these tasks aren’t your cup of tea—if sitting in a corner office is more your speed—then going solo might not be for you. It’s up to attorneys to promote ourselves by doing our own thing until clients find us.
There is so much freedom and so much satisfaction that comes from owning your own business and having total control over every aspect of it—and I would never trade that for a cubicle and a stack of meaningless paperwork.
Big Law Firms
Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to law firms. And when it comes to salary, big firms don’t necessarily offer greater paychecks than smaller firms. However, in terms of job security and annual revenue per partner, larger law firms tend to take home bigger paychecks than their smaller counterparts.
The largest firms command huge salaries for top-flight attorneys. Starting salaries range from $160,000 to $175,000 per year and can go up to $300,000 or more annually. These positions generally come with generous perks such as flexible work hours and subsidized meals and include health care and pension plans. The biggest drawback: Working at a large firm often means longer hours than other positions. This is particularly true of summer associates who often leave after just two months because they’re already feeling burned out.
If you want to be a lawyer working in a suit, go straight to government work. Lawyers employed by state and federal government agencies make a median salary of $84,000, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data from May 2016. That includes not only attorneys that work for agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement or The Food and Drug Administration—but also prosecutors, public defenders, and other criminal justice practitioners who wear suits to work each day. And despite your assumptions about lowball pay in civil service jobs: At least half of attorneys working for state and local governments reported making more than $110,000 per year.
If you have a healthy fear of suits, consider another government gig. A whopping 68 percent of lawyers who work for state and local governments reported making more than $110,000 per year in May 2016.
They work with businesses and large companies and help them avoid legal challenges and issues. Their average salary is $130,000, but they can earn more than $200,000 if their company is publicly traded. Law grads with an LLM (master of laws) in business may earn even more. These attorneys usually have five to ten years of experience under their belts. Corporate counsels are also some of the highest-paid law school grads.
According to BLS data from May 2013, these professionals earned a median annual salary of $139,750. The top 10 percent earned at least $189,440 per year. Attorneys who worked for local governments earned a median wage of about $125,640 per year. The lowest-paid 10 percent brought home $73,880 or less annually.
Real Estate Lawyers
Many people hire a real estate lawyer after they have purchased a home. If you’re trying to sell your house, you might want to enlist an attorney’s help in drawing up a contract. In addition, many questions could come up when dealing with issues such as zoning laws and property lines.
In general, attorneys who handle real estate transactions tend to have years of experience in real estate law, so they understand their client’s concerns and can deal with them confidently.
Estate planning refers to legal documents that outline how someone’s property will be distributed after their death. With so many questions about wills, probate, and other forms of asset management, it’s no wonder that Americans are hiring more estate attorneys than ever before.
There are nearly 9 million real estate attorneys in the United States today, with an average salary of $155,000 per year. The amount you can earn varies by state and region.
Those Who Specialize In Certain Law Fields
Law is a broad field with many subfields. If you focus on one area, you have a better chance of becoming more valuable to clients and therefore able to charge more for your services. For example, there’s litigation versus corporate law, tax law versus patent law, and medical malpractice versus divorce law. Each of these areas plays differently, depending on where it falls in a range from very competitive to very specialized.
For example, medical malpractice lawyers have several unique challenges when they’re negotiating fees with clients. They must be aware of a doctor’s potential loss of income, whether it comes from a suspension or a license revocation. They also have to consider how much time is required to build a case and to prepare for trial, if it comes to that. This means they’ll often charge clients an hourly rate.
A survey of legal industry professionals found that 18% of respondents believed that it is better to be an attorney who specializes in a specific area, rather than one who handles many areas of law. After all, specialization allows attorneys to build reputations and gain expertise in specific areas of law. Attorneys can charge higher fees for specialized work, increasing their incomes.