Lawyer Salary Guide

Lawyers earned a median annual wage of $122,960 in 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports, with a range from the lowest 10% earning less than $60,000 and the highest 10% earning more than $208,000. While this is well above the average for all occupations ($39,810), it does not convey the entire story, such as which work settings, industries or states are the most financially rewarding for lawyers. We examine those questions and more below.

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Lawyer Salary by Work Settings

According to the Bloomberg Law’s review of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) and Public Service Jobs Directory (PSJD)’s 2018 Public Service Attorney Salary Survey, the starting salaries for lawyers in civil legal services organizations by work setting are:

Lawyer Salary by Work Settings
Legal Work Setting Average Salary
Public Service $48,000
Prosecuting Attorney $58,300
Local Prosecutor $56,200
Large Law Firm $190,000
Midsize Law Firm $115,000
Small Law Firm $90,000

Lawyer Salary by Industry Field

According to the BLS as of May 2019, the industries with the highest lawyer salaries are:

Lawyer Salary by Industry Field
Industry Annual Mean Wage
Cable and Other Subscription Programming $224,970
Motion Picture and Video Industries $216,800
Highway, Street and Bridge Construction $215,850
Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing $210,310
Engine, Turbine and Power Transmission Equipment Manufacturing $207,880

More generally, the BLS, as of May 2019, estimates lawyers on average earn the following according to their industry:

Lawyer Salary by Industry Field
Industry Median Annual Wage
Federal Government $144,300
Legal Services $123,620
Local Government $95,870
State Government $89,090

Lawyer Salary by Work Experience

Unfortunately there is no one authoritative source for lawyer salary by work experience. However, pay information from the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal says first-year associates earned median base salaries of $98,750 to $180,000 in 2019, depending on the size of their firms. ABA estimates partners earned $371,000 to $1.136 million depending whether they had equity in the firm. 

Lawyer Salary by Location

According to BLS, lawyers earned the most in these states:

Lawyer Salary by Location
State Annual Mean Wage
Washington, D.C. $192,180
California $173,970
New York $168,780
Massachusetts $164,800
Illinois $157,010

According to the BLS, as of May 2019, the metropolitan areas with the highest lawyer salaries are:

Lawyer Salary by Location
Metropolitan Area Annual Mean Wage
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $218,420
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA $188,910
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV $179,590
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA $178,470
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT $177,930
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA $174,720
Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH $169,920
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA $169,460
Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX $166,850
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA $164,010

The nonmetropolitan areas with the highest lawyer salaries are:

Lawyer Salary by Location
Metropolitan Area Annual Mean Wage
West Texas $146,440
Central New Hampshire $136,710
North Valley-Northern Mountains Region of California $134,400
Northwest Colorado $132,400
Northern Pennsylvania $127,910

Becoming a lawyer may seem tantalizing based on salary alone. But it’s important to know that entering the legal field as a practicing lawyer takes years of education. To become a lawyer, students need to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.), and prepare for the bar exam to pass the bar and earn licensure in their state of practice. To further their studies in a specific area of law, they may also earn a Master of Laws (LL.M.).

What is the salary range for lawyers?

The median annual wage for lawyers was $122,960 in 2019. The lowest paid 10% of lawyers earned less than $59,670 a year, while the highest paid 10% earned more than $208,000.

What types of lawyers make the most money?

Based on the BLS information above, lawyers in the cable and other subscription programming industry earn the highest salary, an average of $224,970. However, it is important to know that salary depends on experience, education, state and industry.

Information on this page was retrieved in June 2020.