The Average Salary for a Law Firm Lawyer

by Catherine Lovering

Lawyers advise and represent individuals and organizations. They can provide services in-house, which means they are employed directly by a corporation, organization or government. However, most lawyers work in law firms, or what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls the "Legal Services" industry. The average pay for lawyers in legal services was $137,180 a year in May 2012. This is slightly higher than the average for all lawyers working in all industries.

Compared to National Average

The average annual wage for all lawyers in the U.S. was $130,880 in May 2012, according to the BLS. That's a few thousand dollars less than the average for law firm lawyers. Although the vast majority of lawyers are employed by law firms, they can also be found in a broad range of other industries, including health care, petroleum, securities and government. The average figure therefore includes lawyers working in a cross-section of industries.

Compared to Top-Paying Industries

Although law firm lawyers earn slightly more than the industry average, they earn significantly less than lawyers in the top-paying industries. For example, lawyers who work in physicians offices earned a mean annual wage of $241,870 in 2012, putting them at the top of the pay pyramid. Lawyers in the petroleum and coal products manufacturing industry ranked second, earning an average of $207,370 a year in 2012.

Compared to Industries with High Employment

Law firm lawyers held the highest number of lawyer jobs in May 2012, at 373,510. This accounted for 64% of the total number of lawyer jobs. The second highest number of lawyer positions were in local government, though the average rate of pay for these jobs was only $94,310. Lawyers employed by state governments held the third highest number of jobs and earned an average salary of $82,750.

Top-Paying States for Lawyers

Among the states and the District of Columbia, lawyers of all types -- including those in law firms -- earned the highest average salary in D.C. at $165,590 a year as of May 2012. California ranked second at an average of $153,480 a year. Rounding out the top five were Delaware at an average of $152,580 a year, New York at $151,850 and Connecticut at $143,410.

About the Author

Catherine Lovering has written about business, tax, careers and pets since 2006. Lovering holds a B.A. (political science), LL.B. (law) and LL.L. (civil law).

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