What Types of Lawyers Are the Highest Paid?
David Muñoz | October 29, 2021 | Personal Injury
Lawyers have a reputation for receiving high pay. The average lawyer makes about $145,000 per year. According to the definitions used by the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center, this puts the average lawyer in the middle class.
But lawyer pay varies widely. A lawyer who is just starting out earns much less than an experienced lawyer. Lawyers in big cities make more money than small-town lawyers. And attorneys in some practice fields make more than others.
Curious about which lawyers are paid the most? Find out below!
What Factors Affect Lawyer Pay?
Several factors can influence how much money a lawyer earns, including:
The Firm They Work With
The lawyer’s employer and type of practice will have the greatest effect on a lawyer’s pay.
Lawyers who work for public interest organizations, like environmental groups, earn less than lawyers in private practice. In-house lawyers make more than most private practitioners. Lawyers in firms make more than solo practitioners.
Salaries in large metropolitan areas exceed those in smaller cities and rural areas. California cities account for five of the ten highest-paying legal markets.
Law firm associates are employees of the law firm. They receive a salary. They may also receive bonuses at the discretion of the law firm’s owners.
Law firm partners are owners of the law firm. Associates become partners as they gain experience and originate clients.
Partners usually receive a salary, as well as a share of the firm’s profits. As a result, their income is much higher.
Experienced lawyers also have a greater likelihood of getting higher-paid jobs with businesses or governments. This applies to positions like:
- In-house counsel
- A county or district attorney
- U.S. Attorney General
- Agency directors
These jobs usually go to lawyers who have practiced long enough to establish a reputation for excellent work and strong ethics.
Their Practice Area
A lawyer’s practice area influences the lawyer’s salary. Some lawyers, like patent attorneys, must have additional qualifications or experience in their practice area. This reduces the number of lawyers who can effectively serve in that field.
High salaries can also arise from extensive experience and knowledge about a niche area of law. Not all injury lawyers have the knowledge to handle medical malpractice cases. As a result, medical malpractice lawyers often earn more than other injury lawyers.
Demand can also drive a lawyer’s income. About 3 million people receive injuries in car accidents every year in the U.S. These accidents keep America’s 100,000 personal injury lawyers busy.
What Types of Lawyers Receive the Highest Pay?
Using all these factors, the highest-paid lawyers include:
The pay for in-house lawyers can vary. But those who work at large corporations usually receive solid compensation packages that include a salary, stock options, health insurance, and a 401(k).
Lawyers in California
California lawyers make more than lawyers in other states. The top markets for lawyers include San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara. The average salary in these markets is close to $220,000 per year.
Not every government lawyer commands a large salary. A public defender or prosecutor in a small town might receive only $50,000 per year. But government lawyers in populous states or large metro areas can earn nearly $200,000 per year.
Intellectual Property Lawyers
Lawyers who handle patents, trademarks, and copyrights command a high salary. These lawyers typically work in large cities for large firms and corporations.
Personal Injury Lawyers
Injury lawyers usually work for a contingent fee. Better client outcomes translate into more pay for these lawyers. Lawyers who obtain large settlements and damage awards reap the rewards of their success.
Pay is Often Based on Attorney Outcomes
In short, lawyer salaries often correlate to their success on behalf of their clients. Experienced lawyers make more than inexperienced ones. Lawyers with corporate clients often benefit from large pay packages. And personal injury lawyers who win cases make more money than unsuccessful lawyers.
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