How Much Do U.S. Legal Professionals Earn? Types of Lawyers and Salaries Overview
While some professions offer a clear path to steady employment and a stable income, working in law can lead to a range of prestigious, engaging, and often lucrative careers. This type of statement is especially true if you’ve fallen victim to the film industry. Thanks to TV Series like Suits or movies like The Firm, you may be under the impression that the legal profession rakes in the money. The stark reality is that they don’t depict the entire picture of the legal industry.
Suppose you really want a six-figure salary as a legal professional. In that case, you have to know the legal sector inside-out. With approximately 1.14M people working in the legal industry, the average lawyer’s salary varies from $61,496 to $172,244, depending on the field of practice. More than that, it does not only come down to lawyers, the legal industry as a whole is vast and worth exploring.
So come with us on a brief legal industry deep-dive to learn about factors that might affect your paycheck.
Legal Industry Walkthrough
- WORKFORCE 1.14M
- AVERAGE EMPLOYEE AGE – 45.2
- AVERAGE SALARY – $107,076
First things first, before we discuss the types of lawyers and average lawyer salaries, let’s check out what other occupations the legal industry consists of and what kind of salaries you can expect depending on the field of practice.
Legal Occupations and Salaries
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics distinguishes between the 5 main types of legal occupations. We ranked them from lowest-paid to highest-paid.
1. Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators
Job Summary: Facilitate negotiation and discussion between disputing parties to help settle disputes outside of the court system.
Entry-Level Education: Bachelor’s degree
2021 Median Salary: $49,410
2. Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Job Summary: Perform a variety of tasks to support lawyers.
Entry-Level Education: Associate’s degree
2021 Median Salary: $56,230
3. Court Reporters and Simultaneous Captioners
Job Summary: Create word-for-word transcriptions at trials, depositions, and other legal proceedings. Simultaneous captioners provide transcriptions for television or for presentations in different settings, such as press conferences and business meetings, for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Entry-Level Education: Postsecondary nondegree award
2021 Median Salary: $60,380
Job Summary: Advise and represent individuals, businesses, and government agencies on legal issues and disputes.
Entry-Level Education: Doctoral or professional degree
2021 Median Salary: $127,990
5. Judges and Hearing Officers
Job Summary: Apply the law by overseeing the legal process in courts.
Entry-Level Education: Doctoral or professional degree
2021 Median Salary: $128,710
Top Paying Locations for Legal Professionals
Geography plays an integral part in your salary, with legal professionals in bigger cities earning more than those in rural areas. Below you can find the states with the highest employment level along with the top-paying states and metropolitan areas with the highest employment level.
States with the Highest Employment Level in Legal Occupations
|State||Employment||Employment per thousand jobs|
Top paying states for Legal Occupations
|State||Hourly mean wage||Annual mean wage*|
|District of Columbia||$85.34||$177,510|
Metropolitan Areas with the Highest Employment Level in Legal Occupations
|Metropolitan area||Employment||Employment per thousand jobs||Hourly mean wage||Annual mean wage*|
|New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA||121,060||13.95||$ 72.57||$ 150,940|
|Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV||64,970||22.15||$ 75.51||$ 157,060|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA||64,620||11.30||$ 66.19||$ 137,670|
|Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI||42,850||10.12||$ 57.93||$ 120,490|
|Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL||39,330||16.04||$ 53.02||$ 110,270|
|Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD||32,250||12.15||$ 55.44||$ 115,320|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||27,500||12.26||$ 71.10||$ 147,890|
|Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH||26,790||10.36||$ 66.35||$ 138,010|
|Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX||26,010||7.25||$ 57.37||$ 119,340|
|Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA||26,010||10.05||$ 50.66||$ 105,370|
*Annual wages have been calculated by multiplying the hourly mean wage by a “year-round, full-time” hours figure of 2,080 hours; for those occupations where there is not an hourly wage published, the annual wage has been directly calculated from the reported survey data. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Most Common Legal Specializations
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there were 1.14M people employed in the Legal services Industry Group in 2021, with lawyers being the biggest group.
The most common specializations in the Legal services Industry Group, by the number of employees, are:
- Lawyers, & judges, magistrates & other judicial workers
- Paralegals & legal assistants
- Secretaries and administrative assistants, except legal, medical, and executive
- Legal secretaries and administrative assistants
- Title examiners, abstractors, and searchers
For the time being, we are only going to focus on lawyers.
Types of Lawyers
What you need to know for now is this: you can group lawyers into two big cohorts, corporate or transactional attorneys and litigators.
The practice groups in transactional attorney departments may include merger and acquisition work, private equity, and real estate transactions. Transactional lawyers draft contracts, help structure deals, advise clients on specific transactions, and invariably, perform due diligence.
In litigation, they may include employment, securities, product liability, intellectual property, and insurance. Litigators, on the other hand, primarily write briefs, memos, and motions; research the law; review documents; and attend depositions or appear in court.
*An interesting fact!
Some niches have a bit of crossover with litigation and corporate, like bankruptcy, tax, labor and employment, and IP.
Lawyer Salaries in the US Judicial System
Sadly, not all lawyers are paid equally. For example, lawyers working in the public sector tend to earn less than those working in the private sector. Those who follow the private practice path make less money than those who work at larger law firms.
So who makes the most?
Let’s try to group the types of lawyers and salaries. We’ve taken the most common specializations and started with the lowest-paid field practitioners that were submitted to Comparably.
|Type of Lawyer||Responsibilities||Average salary|
|Civil litigation lawyers||Сontract disputes, class action lawsuits, property disputes, and complaints filed against a city.||$61,496|
|Personal injury lawyers||Car accidents and slips and falls are two of the most common case types of personal injury.||$65,904|
|Bankruptcy lawyers||Medical debt, foreclosure, and credit card debt.||$73,612|
|Family lawyers||Prenuptial agreements, divorce, child custody, alimony, etc.||$94,409|
|Criminal lawyers||Bail, arraignment, arrest, pleas, and issues related to a criminal trial.||$98,794|
|Tax attorneys||Tax fraud, tax evasion, and failure to file tax returns.||$108,745|
|Immigration lawyers||Visas, green cards, asylum, refugee status, and helping immigrants.||$115,536|
|Intellectual property (IP) lawyers||Copyrights, trademarks, patents, trade secrets, and anything else related to intellectual property.||$120,622|
|Corporate lawyers||Review contracts and give legal advice regarding agreements related to mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures.||$120,712|
|Real estate lawyers||Prepare and review documents relating to purchase agreements, mortgage documents, title documents, and transfer documents.||$131,851|
|Medical malpractice lawyers||Misdiagnosis, inaccurate treatment, and medical negligence.||$139,525|
|Employment lawyers||Wrongful termination, workplace harassment, retaliation, and workplace discrimination||$172,244|
Employment in legal occupations is estimated to grow by 9% from 2020 to 2030 and will result in approximately 116,600 new jobs.
As law firms try to raise the efficiency of legal services and decrease their costs, a significant level of demand is expected for employing more paralegals and legal assistants, which we will cover in our upcoming blog posts. Additionally, the demand for lawyers is expected to continue as individuals, businesses, and governments need legal services in numerous areas. The median annual earnings for legal specializations were $82,430 in May 2021, which was higher than the median annual wage for all specializations of $45,760.
The data presented in this material comes from open-source directories.
It would be impossible to conduct this research without the resources mentioned below, so I encourage you to visit them if you are interested in a more in-depth analysis of national and industry-specific occupational employment:
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures labor market activity, working conditions, price changes, and productivity in the U.S. economy to support public and private decision making.
The Census Bureau – the leading source of quality data about the nation’s people and economy.
The Data USA team consists of economists, data scientists, designers, researchers, and business executives, who work with input from policymakers, government officials, and everyday citizens to develop Data USA, the most comprehensive website and visualization engine for public US Government data.
Bureau of Economic Analysis (US Department of Commerce): The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis is your source for accurate and objective data about the nation’s economy.