Lawyers have the potential to earn big money. However, many variables affect a lawyer’s salary, from her legal specialty to her experience. Work setting and the size of a law firm also make a difference, and bonuses, incentives or stock options -- which may be available in some settings -- also affect total compensation.
Salary Data for Lawyers
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average annual salary of lawyers in 2012 was $130,880. The median, or midpoint, was $113,530. Lawyers in the lowest 10 percent earned $54,310, while those in the highest 10 percent earned at least $187,199. Some lawyers, however, earned even more. Lawyers who worked in wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers earned $198,880. Lawyers who worked in petroleum and coal products manufacturing earned $207,370. Although few lawyers worked in physicians’ offices, those who did earned $241,870.
Location, Work Setting and Industry
Work setting, industry and location typically affect salaries in many occupations, and lawyers are no exception. Lawyers in local governments earned $82,750, and those in state governments earned $94,310 in 2012, according to the BLS. Those who worked in the federal executive branch earned $130,710. Most lawyers worked in legal services, where the average annual salary was $137,180. Although company and enterprise management employed only 0.73 percent of lawyers in 2012, salaries were on the high end at $163,510 annually. Lawyers in North Dakota, the lowest-paying state, earned $87,530, and those in the top-paying District of Colombia earned $165,590.
At $145,000, median starting salaries in 2012 were considerably lower than they had been in the recent past, according to the National Association for Law Placement. However, market variation occurred in some of the larger cities, such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., where the median starting salary was $160,000 at the largest firms. Firms with 251 to 700 associates reported medians in the $135,000 to $145,000 range. New York was the only market in which the median starting salary in the majority of law firms was still $160,000.
Highest of the High
In corporate America, lawyers can earn much higher salaries, according to a July 2012 article in “Business Insider,” which reported salary data from 2011. Ronald Robins, who worked for Abercrombie & Fitch, earned $1,108,523. Verizon's corporate counsel Randal Milch earned $4,566,217. Amy Schulman, who is the executive vice president and the president and general manager for nutrition, as well as the corporate counsel, for Pfizer, earned $5,764,662. Paul Cappuccio, of Time Warner, earned $7,436,579. Top honors, however, go to Qualcomm's Donald Rosenberg, who earned $9,840,184.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 23-1011 Lawyers
- National Association for Law Placement: Median First-Year Big-Law Associate Salary Slumps to $145,000 in 2012, a Median Last Seen in 2007
- Business Insider: 15 Mind-Blowing Salaries Pulled in by Corporate America's Top Lawyers
- Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images