More than 40,000 students graduate from law school each year, according to data published by The Slate Group. Most of them aspire to enter the legal profession as lawyers, an occupation that has long been associated with prestige and a high salary. Although many lawyers earn a generous salary, some lawyers, particularly those who are just starting out, earn just over the household national average.
Earnings for Beginners
As of 2011, the median starting salary for lawyers was $60,000 per year, the National Association for Law Placement, or NALP, reports. Lawyer starting salaries experienced a decline from years prior. In 2010, the median annual salary for a beginning lawyer was 5 percent higher, at $63,000. In 2009, it was even higher, at $72,000 per year. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the median annual household income at $51,017.
Size Matters for the Beginning Lawyer
Lawyers that are just starting off tend to earn more in large law firms than in smaller firms and private practices. Beginning lawyers who obtain positions at firms earn median salaries of $85,000, as of 2011. Of the 18,630 beginning lawyers who reported their salaries to NALP, 14 percent reported much higher salaries, in the $160,000 range. These respondents work in large firms and as a result, receive a higher salary, NALP reports.
The Average Lawyer
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the 2012 average annual salary for a lawyer at $130,880. Lawyers in the 10th percentile earned $54,310; those in the 25th percentile earned $74,880; the median earned $113,530; those in the 75th percentile earned $168,010; and those in the 90th percentile earned in excess of $187,199 annually.
The Highest Paid Lawyers
The top-earning lawyers worked for physicians' offices,and averaged $241,870. Lawyers who work for petroleum and coal products manufacturing are the next highest paid, with annual salaries averaging $207,370. The highest-paying locations for a lawyer are the San Jose, California, area and Dothan, Alabama, where lawyer salaries averaged $184,770 and $174,730, respectively, the BLS reports.
A Dime a Dozen?
As of 2010, there were 728,200 lawyers employed in the U.S. From 2010 to 2020, the BLS expects employment for lawyers to rise by 73,600 to 801,800. This represents a 10 percent increase, which is a bit slower than the national average growth of 14 percent. Because more students are graduating from law school than there are positions for them, competition for jobs is tough.
- The National Association for Law Placement: Median Private Practice Starting Salaries for the Class of 2011 Plunge as Private Practice Jobs Continue to Erode
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 Lawyers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Lawyers
- The Slate Group; The Real Problem With Law Schools; Eric Posner
- U.S. Census Bureau: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012
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