People believe that the legal field is a well-paying profession that will make them rich very quickly. While that may be true for some, it is not always the case. In fact, lawyers did not even make it into the top 15 best paying jobs in a 2007 “Forbes” report. How much a lawyer is paid depends on several variants including where she works, what area of the law she practices, and her experience.
With approximately 80,000 lawyers, Washington, D.C. not only has the highest concentration of lawyers, but also the best paid lawyers in the country. Still, the average salary of a new public defender that works for the local government starts at $66,630.
However, the money gets better for Washington lawyers in private practice. A first-year associate at one of the many large firms makes about $160,000 a year, before benefits. On the other hand, a first-year associate at a small firm can make approximately $72,000. Partners at large firms make astronomically more, with a partner at Williams & Connolly, a top Washington, D.C. firm, earning $1.16 million or more each year.
Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revealed that in 2009, New York was the second best paying state for lawyers, with an average salary of $152,710. According to the BLS, the state also had the second highest concentration of lawyers.
A new associate at the large firm Covington & Burling can make upward of $160,000 a year. On the other hand, state government lawyers earn much less. An assistant district attorney fresh out of law school earns $53,500 at the Queens District Attorneys Office, while an established lawyer earns $54,000.
With laws that are very pro-business, it is little surprise that Delaware has the third most lawyers in the country and is the third highest paying state for lawyers. The average salary was $152,300, as of 2009. An industrial lawyer can earn $128,891 per year.
Judges also receive competitive salaries in Delaware. A circuit court judge can earn upward of $168,850 in the state. Judges sitting on Delaware’s highest court, the Supreme Court, were the third best paid state supreme court judges in 2008, receiving an average salary of $185,050.
In 2006, California had a cost of living that was 29.1 percent higher than the national average, making it one of the most expensive places to live.
To keep up with the cost of living, a first year associate a a big firm in Los Angeles makes $160,000 on average. This is more than the average salary for California lawyers of $156,750 per year, according to the BLS. In fact, California is the fourth top-paying state for lawyers.
- Washington Business Journal: "Salaries for first-year lawyers hold steady in D.C. Read more: Salaries for first-year lawyers hold steady in D.C. | Washington Business Journal"; Fischer , Ben; September 13, 2010
- Above The Law: "How Much Do D.C. Lawyers Make? A Washington Lawyer Salary Survey"; Lat, David; November 10, 2010
- Covington & Burling: Frequently Asked Questions
- Queens District Attorney's Office: Assistant District Attorneys
- Salary Expert: Industrial Lawyer Salaries in Wilmington, Delaware
- Oregon: Office of the Oregon State Court Administrator -- National Judicial Salary (only) Comparison
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images
- Forbes: "America's Best- And Worst-Paying Jobs"; Maidment, Paul; June, 4, 2007
- Washingtonian: "Who Makes How Much: Lawyers"; Palmer, Kimberly; November 10, 2010
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics -- Lawyers
- New Geography: High Cost of Living Leaves Some States Uncompetitive
- NALP: Some Associate Salaries Retreat from Their High
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