What are the Highest-Paid Types of Lawyers?
The salaries of lawyers vary significantly by the type of practice chosen and where the lawyer practices. Many factors impact the amount of money that a lawyer earns. Some factors that impact a lawyer’s salary include:
- The area of law in which the attorney practices;
- The geographic area where the attorney practices;
- Whether the attorney works for a law firm or is a solo practitioner;
- Whether the attorney works in the private or public sector;
- The attorney’s experience; and,
- Whether the attorney works for a corporation.
Here, our attorneys address how some of these factors can influence what a lawyer might earn.
What is the Average Median Income for Lawyers in the United States?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), lawyers earn an average annual income of $145,300 as of May 2019. However, that number varies greatly by state.
The top five geographic areas for attorney’s salaries are:
- District of Columbia $192,180
- California $173,970
- New York $168,780
- Massachusetts $164,800
- Illinois $157,010
Montana has the lowest median income for attorneys of $83,030. Arkansas as the second-lowest with an average annual income of $94,000 for attorneys.
However, within states, smaller geographical areas also impact the amount of money an attorney may earn. Metropolitan areas typically have a higher earning level for lawyers compared with rural areas.
For example, California has the second-highest average annual income for lawyers in the nation. However, lawyers working in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area of California earn an average of $218,420, well above the state’s average.
Of course, these average salaries are based on a geographic location. Within that area, attorneys’ salaries vary greatly by the area of law they choose to practice. Attorneys practicing certain types of law earn a higher annual salary compared to attorneys in other areas of law.
What Types of Law Pay the Most?
Private practice attorneys often choose one or two areas of law in which to practice. Some large law firms may handle numerous types of cases, but the attorneys within the law firm generally limit their cases to one or two areas of law.
Some of the areas of law that have the highest average earnings include:
Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Lawyers
According to the American Bar Association Journal, attorneys who handle cases involving medical malpractice or personal injury can earn $250,000 or more each year.
However, on other lists, personal injury lawyers are not even in the top five practices that earn the highest salaries. Some estimates place the average salary for a personal injury lawyer at $73,000.
Personal injury attorneys handle a variety of cases involving negligence and wrongdoing that cause injury and harm to another person. Examples of cases a personal injury attorney may handle include, but are not limited to:
- Car Accidents
- Slips and Falls
- Dog Bite Injuries
- Motorcycle Accidents
- Wrongful Death Claims
- Truck Accidents
- And Many, Many More
Personal injury lawyers help individuals seek compensation for their injuries, losses, and damages.
Corporate lawyers are some of the highest-paid attorneys. They can earn an average salary between $165,000 and $225,000 per year. Depending on the type of industry, an attorney could earn much more per year.
Attorneys who work for corporations handle matters related to contracts, business disputes, employment matters, corporate mergers and acquisitions, and compliance.
Bankruptcy Lawyers, Immigration Attorneys, and Probate Lawyers
The ABA Journal reports that attorneys who practice in these areas earn $140,000 or less per year. Bankruptcy attorneys assist individuals and companies seek debt relief through the courts.
Probate attorneys work with families and individuals in estate planning. Estate planning may include wills, trusts, long-term care planning, and probate litigation. Immigration lawyers handle a wide range of cases involving legal and illegal immigration issues.
IP and Patent Lawyers
Attorneys who work with intellectual property and patent rights typically earn an average of $129,000 to $132,000 annually. The attorneys help individuals and companies protect information that is considered confidential or protected. Patent law protects a party’s invention from being used without that party’s consent.
Criminal Defense Lawyers
Criminal defense attorneys protect the legal rights of individuals who are accused of a crime. They investigate the case and charges to develop a defense strategy based on the facts and the law. Lawyers in criminal defense law earn an average of $115,000 per year.
The Bottom Line — Average Salaries Vary Greatly
Indeed estimates that the average salary for an attorney in the United States is $94,446. The important thing to remember is that attorneys’ salaries vary greatly, depending on numerous factors. An average considers the extreme highs and extreme lows.
When searching for an attorney, focus on the attorney’s experience, skills, and winning record. The most important thing to you is winning your case. It should be important to your attorney, too.