Parents often want their children to grow up to be lawyers. Most people view attorneys as highly paid professionals with a reliable career.
But how much money do lawyers actually make? What other jobs are available to law students? And is law school debt worth the headache? Here’s what anyone considering a career as an attorney should know about wages, including how much lawyers make a year and per hour.
How Much Do Lawyers Make?
In the U.S., a lawyer typically earns more than $126,000 annually, or $60.58 per hour. Their salaries, however, are largely dependent on factors like area of law practiced, experience and location.
Here are the best paying legal practice areas and highest paying states for attorneys.
Best Paying Areas of Legal Practice for Lawyers
There are various aspects of the law, and attorneys typically choose one or more to focus on. The following are the top-paying practice areas for lawyers.
- Securities and Exchange Commission Law: SEC lawyers help keep publicly traded companies in line with the legal duties they have to their shareholders. According to Georgetown Law, these lawyers help a private company go public, assist in communications between the SEC and a public company and ensure that it meets all SEC filing and reporting requirements.
- The average annual salary of an SEC attorney is around $186,020, or a little more than $89 per hour.
- Wholesale and Manufacturing Industry Law: Wholesale and manufacturing industry attorneys learn everything they can about their clients’ businesses. Once that’s done, these attorneys consult their clients on where the legal risks of their businesses lie and what they can do to protect themselves.
- An attorney who practices wholesale and manufacturing industry law earns around $182,820 annually, or nearly $88 per hour.
- Natural Gas Distribution Law: Natural gas distribution lawyers assist in the development of agreements surrounding the dispersal of this commodity. They also assist in activities like acquisitions, divestitures, infrastructure development, environmental and regulatory counseling, dispute resolution and litigation, according to Snell & Wilmer.
- On average, a lawyer whose practice area focuses on natural gas distribution earns around $179,870 annually, or roughly $86.50 per hour.
Highest Paying US States and Metropolitan Areas
Attorney salaries typically vary by state and metropolitan area. Here are the top five states where a lawyer typically earns the most.
|State||Average Annual Lawyer Salary||Average Hourly Lawyer Wage for a 40-Hour Workweek|
|District of Columbia||$198,820||$95.59|
The five top-paying metropolitan areas for lawyers are:
|Metropolitan Area||Average Annual Lawyer Salary||Average Hourly Lawyer Wage for a 40-Hour Workweek|
|San Jose, Calif.||$231,200||$111.15|
|San Francisco, Calif.||$191,460||$92.05|
|Washington, District of Columbia||$186,610||$89.72|
|New York, N.Y.||$179,060||$86.09|
|Los Angeles, Calif.||$177,550||$85.36|
What Other Legal Careers Should Law Students Consider?
Law students who find it difficult to find a job as a lawyer or simply want to follow a different path have multiple options. Here are some of the best ones.
Judicial Law Clerk
Judicial law clerks are essentially assistants to judges. These professionals assist in researching case law, reviewing trial records and drafting memoranda and court opinions.
On average, a judicial law clerk earns around $50,750 annually.
Mediators are objective parties who help settle disputes. In some cases, mediation may be a contractually obligated course of action, while in others, litigants attempt mediation before a full-fledged lawsuit. Mediators listen to both sides of the argument and attempt to find common ground that will lead to a peaceful resolution of the issue.
A mediator typically earns around $49,410 per year.
US Army Judge Advocate
Military courts that aren’t accessible to the general public or general attorneys handle disputes that happen in the military. The U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps focuses on several areas of law, including criminal, international, administrative and operational. These attorneys may also serve as liaisons to allied nations’ legal authorities.
On average, a U.S. Army judge advocate in the United States earns roughly $75,547 per year.
What Should Students Know About Law School Debt?
It’s estimated that around 65% percent of college students graduate with student debt, and that outstanding amount is roughly $37,113. That amount increases a bit when private loans are factored in, rising to around $40,904.
Lawyers graduate with substantially more debt than the average American student. By comparison, roughly 74.1% of law students graduate with debt, which stands at around $118,400 by the time they finish school. However, those who attend one of the top 10 law schools in the country can expect to graduate with around $155,300 in student debt.
Is Law School Debt Worth It?
Fewer than one in four law school graduates say a legal career was worth the cost of the education. This is understandable considering that the average attorney salary is around $126,000 in the United States. At this income level, attorneys will have to work more than a full year to cover the cost of their education before adding interest, fees and other living expenses.
Attorneys enjoy careers that offer a certain level of freedom. However, those who don’t end up in the highest paying practice areas or the highest paying cities and states may experience a larger burden associated with educational costs.
Frequently Asked QuestionsCollege hopefuls who are considering becoming lawyers will likely have several questions. Here are some of the most common ones.
- Do lawyers really make good money?
- The average lawyer earns $127,990 – or $61.54 hourly – while the average American salary currently sits at around $58,260 – or $28.01 per hour. Compared to the national average, attorneys earn more than double the average income, which is great money.
- Why are lawyers so rich?
- Lawyers earn a significant income that equates to more than double the average American salary. As a result, a single attorney will bring in more household income than a married couple who both have average careers, leading to the perception that lawyers are rich.
- How many years do you have to study to be a lawyer?
- Outside of compulsory education – grades K-12 – lawyers study for seven years. Law students spend four years in undergraduate study and an additional three years in law school.
- How much does law school cost at Harvard?
- Students typically pay around $107,350 per year to attend Harvard Law School – in addition to course enrollment, that amount includes other expenses, like textbooks, meals, student housing, supplies and travel. Because law school takes around three years to complete, a law student at Harvard will have to pay around $321,000 to complete their legal degree in that time span.
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Information is accurate as of April 28, 2022.