How Much Does a Lawyer Make a Year?

By Caroline Banton · March 05, 2024 · 9 minute read

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How Much Does a Lawyer Make a Year?

Lawyers are highly educated and command high salaries to match. How much a lawyer earns a year depends on what type of law they practice, what school they attended, as well as their competence and experience.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for a lawyer in May 2022 (the latest data available) was $135,740 per year, or $65.26 per hour.

Corporate lawyers who work in the private sector tend to earn more than those in the public sector (such as district attorneys or public defenders), and sole practitioners typically earn less money than lawyers at large firms.

Read on to learn more about how much a lawyer makes, where you can find top-paying jobs for lawyers, and the benefits and drawbacks of becoming a lawyer.

What Does a Lawyer Do?

Lawyers advise and represent clients on legal proceedings or transactions. They typically conduct in-depth research into law, regulations, and past rulings. They also prepare legal documents, including lawsuits, wills, and contracts.

Not an ideal job for people with social anxiety, lawyers will often appear in court in support of their clients and present evidence in hearings and trials, including arbitration and plea bargaining. Lawyers also counsel their clients in legal matters and suggest courses of action.

A lawyer’s exact duties will vary depending on the type of law they practice. For example, criminal defense attorneys advocate on behalf of those accused of criminal activity; family lawyers handle family-related legal issues like divorce, adoption, and child welfare; and corporate lawyers handle legal matters for businesses.
Some lawyers work for the government or in the public’s interest, and are known as public interest lawyers. Public defense attorneys, for example, represent criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. Public interest lawyers also work for nonprofit organizations to support civil rights and social justice causes.

Other types of lawyers include:

•   Environmental lawyers

•   Bankruptcy lawyers

•   Immigration lawyers

•   Intellectual property lawyers

•   Entertainment lawyers

•   Tax lawyers

•   Personal injury lawyers

•   Estate planning lawyers

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How Much Do Starting Lawyers Make a Year?

Lawyers tend to be well paid even at the entry level because they are highly educated. And, the more experience a lawyer gains, generally the more they will earn. According to ZipRecruiter, entry-level lawyers make $100,626 a year, on average, with a range from $47,000 to $138,000.

Those who choose to invest the time, money, and work into becoming a lawyer can feel relatively confident about being able to get a job when they graduate: The BLS projects an increase of 62,400 attorney jobs between 2022 and 2032, representing an 8% growth (which is faster than the average for other occupations).

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How Much Money Does a Lawyer Make a Year on Average?

According to the BLS’s most recent data, the average salary for a lawyer in 2022 was $135,740. The best-paid 25% made $208,980 that year, while the lowest-paid 25% made $94,440.

A lawyer working for a law firm or as in-house counsel will typically be paid with an annual salary versus an hourly wage, but the average hourly pay for a lawyer works out to be $65.26 an hour.

How much a lawyer makes, however, can vary widely depending on their experience, specialty, and location.

The highest paying legal specialties include:

•   Patent attorney

•   Intellectual property attorney

•   Trial lawyer

•   Tax attorney

•   Corporate lawyer

The cities that pay the highest lawyer salaries are:

•   San Jose, California ($267,840)

•   San Francisco, California ($239,330)

•   Washington, District of Columbia ($211,850)

•   Bridgeport, Connecticut ($209,770)

•   Oxnard, California ($207,970)

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How Much Money Does a Lawyer Make by State?

As mentioned above, how much money a lawyer makes can vary by location. What follows is a breakdown of how much a lawyer makes per year, on average, by state.

State Average Annual Lawyer Salary
Alabama $138,250
Alaska $120,590
Arizona $144,890
Arkansas $116,730
California $201,530
Colorado $168,680
Connecticut $174,520
Delaware N/A
District of Columbia $226,510
Florida $135,840
Georgia $165,560
Hawaii $106,520
Idaho $96,810
Illinois $158,030
Indiana $143,060
Iowa $117,500
Kansas $115,860
Kentucky $99,840
Louisiana $127,150
Maine $102,060
Maryland $158,150
Massachusetts $196,230
Michigan $127,030
Minnesota $163,480
Mississippi $101,240
Missouri $138,680
Montana $98,170
Nebraska $119,310
New Hampshire $130,130
New Jersey $163,690
New Mexico $110,970
New York $188,900
North Carolina $146,890
North Dakota $120,780
Ohio $130,320
Oklahoma $114,470
Oregon $144,610
Pennsylvania $144,570
Rhode Island $156,300
South Carolina $115,230
South Dakota $109,190
Tennessee $149,050
Texas $166,620
Utah $133,920
Vermont $101,610
Virginia $162,640
Washington $162,200
West Virginia $122,070
Wisconsin $147,530
Wyoming $88,570

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Lawyer Job Considerations for Pay & Benefits

To get a job as a lawyer, you must complete a four-year undergraduate degree and then attend law school to earn a juris Doctor degree, or J.D. This can mean four years pursuing a bachelor’s degree, followed by three years of law school (or four years if you go to law school part time).

After graduating from law school, you’ll need to pass the multi-day bar exam for the state in which you want to practice. In addition, most states also require lawyers to keep up to date with law and take training courses throughout their career.

The hard work and financial investment can pay off, however. In addition to competitive pay, lawyers who work full time for a specific company or organization typically get a wide variety of benefits, including health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, flexible scheduling, and more. They may also get bonuses for cases won, costs of bar association fees covered, and training and development opportunities.

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Pros and Cons of a Lawyer’s Salary

Becoming a lawyer can be a clear path to making more than $100,000 but, as with any profession, working as a lawyer comes with both benefits and drawbacks. Understanding the pros and cons of this role will help you determine if you’re well-suited for this career path.

Pros of Becoming a Lawyer

•   Multiple job opportunities: As a lawyer, you have a variety of career paths, giving you the opportunity to work in an area you feel passionate about, whether that is corporate law, family law, real estate law, criminal law, or immigration law.

•   Option to start your own practice: With a law degree and significant experience, you may be able to start your own business and determine the types of clients you want to represent and how many cases you want to take on at any one given time.

•   Earn a high salary: Lawyers have the potential to earn well over six figures a year. Though you may not earn this salary right out of the gate, there is ample opportunity for career advancement and salary increases over time.

•   Stimulating and challenging work: As a lawyer, your daily duties will likely be intellectually challenging. Lawyers typically need to understand complex legal theories, form a hypothesis and create a legal strategy to benefit their clients, and argue and debate in a courtroom.

Cons of Becoming a Lawyer

•   Work can be stressful: Lawyers must meet deadlines as well as the demands of their clients. You may also come across stressful and emotionally difficult cases, which can take a psychological toll.

•   Long hours: This professional is notorious for its long hours, particular for those who are just starting out in a prestigious law practice. It’s not unusual for an associate lawyer to put in 60 to 90 hours a week each week, depending on the demands of the case they’re working on.

•   High level of student debt: In addition to a bachelor’s degree, lawyers need to pay for law school, which often comes with a high price tag. Generally, the more prestigious the school, the higher the price. Even with a high salary, new lawyers may not be able to pay off their debt for many years.

•   Today’s clients have more options: The opportunity to get clients has gotten more competitive with the rise of self-help legal websites, legal document technicians, and virtual law offices. If a client seeks legal advice or counsel, they don’t always have to go to a lawyer for help.

The Takeaway

A law degree is a valuable credential that takes around seven years of study to achieve (including a bachelor’s degree). Lawyers can choose where they want to work and what type of law they would like to specialize in, whether it be criminal law, corporate law, environmental law, or immigration law.

The amount a lawyer makes will vary depending on the school they attended, experience, type of law they practice, and where in the country they practice. According to the BLS, the highest paid lawyers earn over $230,000, and the lowest paid lawyers earn around $66,500.

Whatever type of job you pursue, you’ll want to make sure your earnings can cover your everyday living expenses. To help ensure your monthly outflows don’t exceed your monthly inflows, you may want to set up a basic budget and check out financial tools that can help track your income and spending.

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Can you make $100k a year as a lawyer?

Yes. Most lawyers earn over $100k a year. The average salary for a lawyer, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $135,740 per year. The best-paid lawyers, however, can earn more than $200,000 a year.

Do people like being a lawyer?

Being a lawyer can be a great career choice if you enjoy working in a fast-paced and challenging environment and have an interest in upholding laws and defending an individual’s rights. According to a recent survey by Law360 Pulse, 83% of surveyed attorneys report they are stressed at least some of the time, nonetheless 68% percent say they are satisfied or very satisfied with their overall job.

Is it hard to get hired as a lawyer?

It’s generally not hard to find a job as a lawyer after you pass the bar exam, especially if you attended a top-rated law school, graduated in the top third of your class, and/or had strong internships and clerkships. Jobs for lawyers are expected to grow 8% between 2022 and 2032, which is faster than the average for other occupations (3%).

Photo credit: iStock/shapecharge

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