What Lawyers Actually Make In 6 Different Parts Of America

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A while back, the team here at TFD brainstormed a way we could provide specific insight into different careers by focusing on a certain job, providing basic stats about it, and rounding up a range of salaries that span the whole of the U.S. We’ll do this roundup with a new position each time, and we want to know the fields and positions YOU want to see. Leave your suggestions in the comment section below! We began with marketing, and the career that’s up next is Law and working as a professional Lawyer. We’re going to take a look at salaries across a few different positions, (though there are MANY within these) from entry-level to experienced attorneys. Hopefully, this will help you gain a better understanding of the type of work involved in a career in law, and how much you can potentially make while doing so.

Lawyers play an enormously important role in our society, and yet, as someone whose only entry-point into the world of law was the movie Legally Blonde and USA’s Suits, I’m pretty far removed from the profession. I have a few friends in law school, when they discuss what they are concentrating on and specializing in, it’s overwhelming to listen to because I don’t know any of the jargon being used. However, the work lawyers do in both the public and private sector, is invaluable to our judicial system, and I think it’s useful to have a working knowledge of this profession.

There’s an incredibly insightful article written here, which describes what exactly lawyers do and what their profession offers them, saying:

Lawyers represent all sorts of clients including individuals, businesses, and government agencies involved in legal disputes. In order to advise and represent clients, lawyers are responsible for interpreting laws and rulings and filing out legal documents. Some of the documents lawyers work with include lawsuits, contracts, deeds, and wills. Lawyers may specialize in a specific area within the legal systems such as criminal law, marriage and divorce law, corporate law, taxes, family law, or litigation.

You see? The career opportunities are super complex and vary greatly. For example, we here at TFD have a lawyer that specializes in a very tiny slice of law that is just one piece of a LARGE puzzle. To read more about the top law careers, check out this article which explores the top ten most lucrative options. Of course, this article simply serves as a primer into this profession and there is a ton more to learn, read up on, and explore. Career advisors suggest seeking someone out who works in this profession and/or an area in which you’re interested in, and ask them a ton of questions to help you contextualize what life is like for professional lawyers. Also, be sure to read up on these thorough articles here and here, which will help prepare your for what to expect.

Without further adieu, check out the various salary listings below. We take a look at how much you can make working in each of the positions mentioned above. (We used Glassdoor to research the salaries listed, but you can also use sites like PayScale, The Bureau Of Labor Statistics, or even LinkedIn to do your own research).

Position: Entry-level Attorney, Associate Attorney, and experienced Senior-level Attorney. Also, I didn’t know this, but once you have a law degree, you’re always be considered a “lawyer.” This article explains, “A lawyer is someone who is educated in the law. A person who has been educated in the law will always be addressed as a lawyer, even if he or she does not give legal advice to other people.”

National Average Salary:

Entry-Level Attorney: $57,154
Associate Attorney: $68,274
Senior-Level Attorney: $132,120

Also, this article has an awesome graph at the bottom, which tracks how salaries change/adjust depending on the size of the company that hires you.

Degree Required: A Juris Doctor (masters of law) degree. (Which is what the degree is called when you complete training in the United States, Canada, or Australia.) The entire education process, in a nutshell, goes a little something like this: Earn your Bachelors’ degree (in whatever area of study, like english, finance, pre-law, etc.) –> pass the LAST –> Enroll and get accepted to Law school –> Complete an internship–> Graduate –> Pass the Bar Exam. I have a friend going to law school, and she told me that when she asked her advisor at the start of her junior year college what she should major in if she intended to go to law school, he said, “Get a degree in something you’d be interested in pursuing if you can’t get into law school.” Sound advice.

Position Description: The world of law is a complex and rich field to work in. For outsiders, it’s tough to know exactly what lawyers do, even if we do see them represented on TV. An article on MyPlan.com describes the job succinctly, saying, “Lawyers represent clients in criminal and civil litigation and other legal proceedings, draw up legal documents, or manage or advise clients on legal transactions. May specialize in a single area or may practice broadly in many areas of law.” There are many different area of law one can choose to study, such as: Constitutional LawEnvironmental LawIntellectual Property LawInternational LawLabor Law, and Public Interest Law.

Opportunities for advancement/promotion: A day in the life of a lawyer looks different for everyone, depending on where you work and what you specialize in. This article explains, “Attorneys spend most of their time in courtrooms, law libraries, or legal offices. They can meet clients at their homes, prisons, or hospitals. Lawyers may have to travel to various locations such as courtrooms or meeting locations. Attorneys will experience a lot of stress when a case is being tried in court. Lawyers must stay up to date about recent judicial decisions and new laws.” Depending on whether or not you work in a public or private firm, your advancement up the law career ladder will differ. Be sure to check out these helpful articles about advancing through a career in law here, here, and here.

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Image via Unsplash

– Los Angeles, CA: $120, 552 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– San Francisco, CA: $107,429 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– Seattle, WA: $102,117 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– Portland, OR: $127,714 (Associate Attorney)

– San Diego, CA: $127, 275 (Senior Attorney)

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Image via Unsplash

– New York City, NY: $142,474 (Senior Attorney)

– Philadelphia, PA: $104,322 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– Albany, NY: $110,496* (Senior Attorney)

– Washington, DC: $118,788 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– Newark, NJ: $120,257 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– Baltimore, MD: $111,922* (Senior Attorney)

– Middletown, DE: $95,504 (Associate Attorney)

– Pittsburgh, PA: $105,290 (Associate Attorney)

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Image via Unsplash

– Boston, MA: $111,186 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– Bridgeport, CT: $163,730 (Associate Attorney)

– Manchester, NH: $94,455 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– Stamford, CT: $125,315 (Associate Attorney)

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– Chicago, IL: $107,820 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– Detroit, MI: $113,436 (Associate Attorney)

– Columbus, OH: $98,367 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– Denver, CO: $95,662 (Associate Attorney)

– Salt Lake City, UT: $131,507 (Associate Attorney)

– Indianapolis, IN: $93,172 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– Grand Rapids, MI: $111,340 (Associate Attorney)

– Omaha, NE: $89,228 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– Cleveland, OH: $126,449 (Associate Attorney)

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Image via Unsplash

– Phoenix, AZ: $111,714 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– Las Vegas, NV: $105,399 (Associate Attorney)

– Tucsan, AZ: $89,533 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– Houston, TX: $164,998 (Associate Attorney)

– Austin, TX: $137,436 (Associate Attorney)

– Dallas, TX: $108,719 (Entry-Level Attorney)

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Image via Flickr

– Atlanta, GA: $99,135 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– Louisville, KY: $105,354 (Senior Attorney)

– Miami, FL: $92,715 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– Raleigh, NC: $101,885 (Senior Attorney)

– Orlando, FL: $81,936 (Entry-Level Attorney)

– Memphis, TN: $110,908 (Associate Attorney)

– Jacksonville, FL: $112,304 (Associate Attorney)

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Remember to leave your suggestions for the next salary round-up in the comment section below!

Top image via Flickr

  • Bri

    Police officers, college professors, & if possible radio hosts/djs? Ik the last 2 aren’t law but maybe someday!

  • Lauren Cox

    Would love to see what psychologists make! There are several different types (I/O, pediatrics, counseling, clinical) working in several different settings.

  • Yoopie

    Nurses or therapists/ msw holders

  • George @ 20 something lawyer

    Very comprehensive work. It should be noted though that entry-level salaries may vary across individuals according to their law school credentials and prior internship experience.

  • Sara

    BTW, the test to get into law school is the LSAT, not the LAST.

  • I gotta be that person and say that this list is completely inaccurate and should come with ALOT of caveats. Starting salaries are not what is listed and Glassdoor, because it’s based on self-reporting, is a pretty terrible gauge for what lawyers make per city. Moreover the salaries listed seem to only pertain to associates (who usually work at law firms) and firms of a certain size, which is a very very small percentage of people who practice law. For example, no government or public service entry level attorney will ever make close to six figures; most make around $50,000 if they work for a judge, DA, defender, or agency. Lawyers who work at firms with fewer than 100 attorneys or that are not particularly lucrative or prestigious are also not going to make anything close to six figures; they may be lucky to get $50,000. And then there’s all the entry level attorneys who make no money at all because they can’t find a paying job. The bottom line is that most first year lawyers will make $50,000, sometimes more or less depending on where they went to law school, how well they did and other factors.
    Sorry to be such a stickler, but there’s alot of inaccurate info floating around about law schools generally and TFD shouldn’t be adding to it. The best (though still imperfect) single place to find info on lawyer salaries is probably on NALP (http://www.nalp.org/salariescompensation).

    • Sindhoo

      This is a really important point.

    • Quinn Eaton

      Agreed. I have never seen a more inaccurate description of being a lawyer, or of their pay. Please, anyone interested in being a lawyer, do not base your decision on *anything* in this article!

  • Emily

    Love this article! Just a couple things that aren’t correct, though.

    A JD isn’t the same as an LLM–an LLM is the master of law degree, and JD means doctor of jurisprudence.

    There actually no way to “pass” or “fail” the LSAT–you take it and receive a score from 120-180, and that score (with some variation based on other application factors, but the LSAT is the biggest one at most schools) guides which law schools you’ll be accepted to.

    I’m not sure where you got the information in the “Position” section, but it’s not really correct either. At a firm you can be a junior associate, senior associate, or various levels of partners (who are the most senior). You can also be in-house counsel for a corporation or be a solo practitioner. In public work, you can be an assistant district attorney, a public defender, a law clerk, or many different titles at a gov’t agency.

    Not all law students complete an internship, and when they do its usually one of two types–they can clerk for a judge or be a summer associate at a firm.

    Also, the pay scale for entry-level associates at most big firms in NYC just changed–they receive 180k in their first year, so the 142k for a senior attorney (I assume you mean partner?) is a little low. Also, salaries vary a huge amount (mostly because the upper end is so high), because law schools are less regulated than, say, med schools, so there’s a really wide range in quality. Someone from Yale/Stanford/Harvard is going to have a much different pay scale than someone from a 4th-tier or unaccredited law school.

    Obviously a lot of this is information you wouldn’t know unless you were actually in the field, and this is a great way to estimate salaries otherwise.

    • Rebecca Foresman

      Hi Emily – such a thorough breakdown! Thank you for all the info. If you ever want to write about your experiences with working as a lawyer (which I assume you do, from your depth of knowledge?), we’d love to hear from you on our submissions page: http://thefinancialdiet.com/submissions/

  • L

    I think the article could have benefited from interviewing people in the field similar to the article regarding teachers. (Sorry I sound like a jerk, I love TFD!) I graduated a couple of years ago – landing the first job took a while for a lot of people, and I don’t know anyone making close to any of these salaries. OH and the mountains of student loan debt. The legal market is BLEAK.

  • Sindhoo

    I think law is more like divided into 3 different categories.

    1) Public interest/government positions – really difficult to get hired without having demonstrated a thorough commitment to the particular issue, and really low paying. Certain law schools do have a debt forgiveness plan, however.

    2) Big law – Starting salary in most markets is now $180k. I believe Minneapolis/Detroit/some other smaller but still major cities are around $110k. This is also a very difficult job to land, and these firms burn through associates. Generally the plan is to stay in for a few years, pay back debt, save money, and transition to smaller firms.

    3) Smaller/mid-size/boutique/etc firms – The starting salary varies heavily for other firms, and maybe that’s when the average numbers above are more helpful. Again, tough to land these jobs but not as tough as the first two (in my experience, but correct me if I’m wrong).

    I also think it’s really important to describe the enormous debt burden combined with the difficulty of finding a job after graduation, and the difference in employment statistics from certain schools. So many people go to law school thinking that it’s a sure fire way to a great salary if you work hard, but most employers will not even look at the resumes if you’re not at a “good” school. I know this comes off as elitist, but at a certain point on the US News rankings, the law school is more scam than legit employment opportunity.

  • Liz Vincensi

    Random side note/tip: as many have said, the legal market is bleeeeeak right now. I was pretty sure I didn’t want to go to law school, but not 100%, and my first job out of undergrad was with a (voluntary membership) bar association.

    Such a great way to network and meet all sorts of different lawyers in tons of fields, all the way from current summer associates/student all the way to the most high profile judges. I’d highly recommend some sort of similar job before deciding on law school! It definitely turned me off to the craziness (i.e. scam) that is law school, but a few of my colleagues still went on to great law schools with recommendations from those within the field, and they had an inkling of what they wanted to practice.

    Generally though, law school is not worth it if you’re going into debt.

  • Maya

    I’d really like to see articles like these actually ask lawyers (or doctors, PR people, whatever) what they make.
    Information like this is so generalized it’s actually unhelpful. As others have pointed out, this seems to be solely based off information about salaries at corporate firms (and even then, most top firms at places like NYC and SF start off between 160-190k so I really don’t know where these figures are coming from). It’s a nice idea, but less helpful to have a generalized salary for 50 cities than it would be to see 5 salaries and some detail about what the job in question is. Just looking at Glassdoor and putting together some rough averages isn’t the most accurate way to get a sense of what a professional career as vast as “being a lawyer” can pay you.

  • cjlane

    Those “averages” are *totally* misleading.

    The median starting salary is about $60,000

    The median for *all* lawyers is about $115,000

    And that is after 3 years of law school, and $250,000 (or more) of tuition and living expense.

    If you have someone else to pay for that AND you get into one of the 50 or so best law schools (or the best/2d best in the state you plan to live in forever), then it is *most likely* a good decision.

    If both of those aren’t true, *DON’T DO IT*, at least not because of the salaries set forth above.

    IT IS A TRAP.

  • Laila

    So. Many. Typos. Lawyers are sad.

  • It really would be best to speak to actual people from the professions at issue before writing posts like this. As someone who recently graduated from law school, there’s really nothing helpful or even particularly accurate here. Just looking at average salary data industry-wide is not helpful. Starting salaries for new graduates look like this: http://www.nalp.org/class_of_2014_salary_curve. Essentially, one is either at a mega-sized biglaw firm and starting at $160,000 or $180,000 in major markets like NYC, DC, etc. (thanks to a recent move to raise attorney salaries at most law firms of this size) or one is making significantly less. Generally speaking, only students at very top law schools (top 14, maybe top 6) can expect to easily find their way into biglaw.

    I had a substantial scholarship for nearly half of my total tuition or a year’s cost of attendance at a school in a high cost of living city. My law school loans still ended up being around $190,000 once the interest that accrued during school was taken into account. A biglaw attorney in NYC that lives a relatively frugal (for NYC area) lifestyle might still need around six years of aggressive repayment (i.e. at least $3000/month in payments) to clear that debt, maybe a little less if they refinance their federal loans (average interest rate around 7%) to something lower interest. Also, it’s not a given that anyone who starts out in biglaw will actually be able to endure it for five or six years.

    • cjlane

      “it’s not a given that anyone who starts out in biglaw will actually be able to endure it for five or six years”

      Nevermind “endure”; most of the NYC firms hire on the premise that half or more of the entering class *needs* to leave after ~3 years. And they will ‘encourage’ that to happen.

      “only students at very top law schools (top 14, maybe top 6) can expect to easily find their way into biglaw.”

      NO ONE** “easily” finds their way into biglaw++. Unless one believes that it’s “easy” to be in or around the top half of one’s class at a top 6 law school.

      **Ok, maybe Yale Law grads find it easy; but it’s not a slamdunk even from HLS.
      ++ meaning a firm paying 1st years at least $160k, and 5th years at least $225k

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