Becoming an attorney requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Most aspiring attorneys need to complete at least three years of law school in order to earn a law degree. On top of the time commitment, law school tuition can also be expensive. If you’re considering a career in the legal field, it’s only natural to want to know the average lawyer salary in order to determine your return on investment.
How much does a lawyer make?
The decision to become an attorney does pay off for many people. The average lawyer salary in the United States is $145,300, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Attorneys also hold a coveted spot among Glassdoor’s 25 highest-paying jobs in the United States for 2019.
Of course, as in most professions, your earnings as an attorney will likely begin on the lower side and increase over time. Glassdoor puts the average salary for a first-year attorney at $107,549.
What type of lawyer gets paid the most?
When you break down earnings, the BLS reports that the average attorney’s wage works out to almost $70 per hour. But the amount of money an individual attorney actually makes has a lot to do with the type of law they practice. Whether an attorney works in the private or public arena (think government versus corporations and private law firms) can also impact earnings in a significant way.
Attorneys in state government positions earned an average annual wage of $94,050 in 2019 (per the BLS). Those who held positions in the federal executive branch, by comparison, averaged $139,720 in annual earnings.
Meanwhile, lawyers working in the following industries earned significantly more in 2019 than the average annual salary for their profession.
Cable and Subscription Programming: $224,970.
Motion Picture and Video: $216,800.
Construction (Highway, Street and Bridge): $215,850.
Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing: $210,310.
Does it depend on location?
Not only do different types of lawyers earn different levels of income, but location can also impact an attorney’s earning potential as well. Here’s a breakdown from the BLS that shows the annual mean wage for attorneys based in various parts of the country.
State Average Annual Wages
Washington, D.C. $192,180
New York $168,780
West Virginia $102,040
Even within specific states, salary size among attorneys can differ. Lawyers located in major metropolitan areas tend to outearn lawyers in other parts of their states. For example, the average attorney in Dallas, Texas, earned $151,100 in 2019. Meanwhile, the average attorney salary for the state of Texas as a whole was $144,110 for the same time period.
Is law school worth it?
Law school can potentially be a stepping stone toward a successful and lucrative career in the legal field. But that doesn’t change the fact that some graduates aren’t happy with their investments after the fact. A recent Gallup poll found that only 23 percent of graduates felt strongly that their law degrees were worth the cost.
Before you apply to law school, and especially before you enroll, you should take the time to ask yourself some important questions.
What is the cost of tuition? The average annual law school tuition was $28,186 for in-state students at public universities in 2019, according to Law School Transparency. Graduate students attending private law schools faced a much higher price tag of $49,312.
Does the law school you’re considering have a solid reputation? Degrees from lower-tier schools may not open the door to the higher-paying opportunities you hope to land post-graduation.
Do I have the time and dedication to succeed? The last thing you want to do is start law school, incur student debt and decide to drop out before earning your degree. You should also consider whether you can commit the time and energy necessary to earn good grades. After all, your GPA might impact your job opportunities after graduation — especially in highly competitive positions.
Which legal specialty should I study? Beyond picking the right law school, it may pay off to focus your legal studies on a field that’s in high demand.
How to manage law school student debt
Because of the high cost of law school, many students need to find a source of financing to cover tuition, fees and other educational expenses. Law School Transparency found that around 75 percent of law school attendees rely on student loans to finance their education. Among those who borrow money to cover their law school expenses, $115,481 is the average amount of student loan debt owed at graduation.
If your entry-level job in the legal field doesn’t pay as much as you wish it did, keeping up with your law school student debt could be a struggle. However, you have options.
Depending on the types of loans you used to finance your education, you may be eligible for a federal income-based repayment plan. Alternatively, refinancing your private student loans could potentially help you find a more manageable payment solution.
Weighing the benefits and drawbacks of any career decision upfront is important, no matter which occupation you decide to pursue. Becoming an attorney has proven to be a smart career choice for many people. Still, you should take your time and make sure law school is the right move for you before committing to such a big investment of your time and money.
Are you ready to move forward? Federal and private law school loans may be available to help you cover your education expenses, depending on your situation. Shop around and compare law school loans to find one that works best for you.
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