How Much Does a Lawyer Make in the U.S.? An In-depth Salary Analysis

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Understanding the earnings of lawyers in the United States involves examining a variety of factors, including specialization, location, experience, and the type of practice. This article provides a comprehensive overview of the average incomes for lawyers across different states and sectors, highlighting the financial prospects within the legal profession.

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Overview of Lawyer Salaries

Lawyer salaries in the U.S. vary widely based on several key factors. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for lawyers was approximately $126,930 as of May 2020. However, this figure can fluctuate significantly depending on one’s position within the legal field.

Factors Influencing Salaries

Specialization: Lawyers in certain specializations, such as intellectual property, corporate law, or finance law, tend to earn higher salaries compared to those in general practice or less lucrative specialties like family or criminal law.


  1. Intellectual Property Lawyers: Specializing in patent law, these lawyers earn among the highest salaries in the legal field due to the technical complexity and high demand for IP protection. Entry-level patent attorneys can start with an average salary of about $139,008 per year, increasing to around $193,511 with 15+ years of experience​ (​.
  2. Corporate Lawyers: These attorneys handle a wide range of issues for businesses, including mergers, acquisitions, and compliance with corporate laws. Salaries can range significantly, with entry-level corporate lawyers earning around $119,568 and those with more than 15 years of experience making up to $210,302 annually​ (​.
  3. Medical Lawyers: This specialty can include areas such as healthcare policy, public health, and medical malpractice, with salaries often starting at around $104,039 for beginners and going up to $187,642 for more experienced lawyers​ (​​ (JurisEd)​.
  4. Tax Lawyers: They provide advice on all tax-related matters and can represent clients in front of tax authorities. Starting salaries for tax lawyers are around $99,610, increasing to approximately $147,790 with extensive experience​ (​.
  5. Real Estate Lawyers: Involved in property transactions, zoning laws, and estate planning, real estate lawyers can earn from about $104,039 at the entry-level to upwards of $187,642 for senior attorneys​ (​​ (BCG ATTORNEY SEARCH)​.

Geographical Location: Lawyers working in metropolitan areas or regions with a high cost of living, such as New York City or San Francisco, often have higher wages than those in rural areas. States like California, New York, and Massachusetts are among the top-paying states for lawyers.

Experience and Career Stage: Entry-level lawyers, typically referred to as associates in law firms, generally earn less than partners or lawyers who own their private practices. Seniority can significantly influence earnings, with experienced lawyers commanding higher fees and salaries.

Type of Employer: Lawyers employed in the private sector usually earn more than those working for the government or non-profits. For example, attorneys in large law firms or multinational corporations can earn several times the salary of public defenders or nonprofit lawyers.

Income Distribution

The income distribution among lawyers is highly skewed. While the top 10% of earners in the field can make upwards of $208,000 per year, the bottom 10% may earn less than $61,000. This distribution reflects the competitive nature of the field and the variance in legal job markets.

Recent trends in the legal profession indicate a gradual increase in lawyer salaries, driven by growing demand for legal services in areas such as health care, privacy law, and international trade law. However, the rise of legal technology and outsourcing could moderate salary growth by replacing some traditional legal services.

The cost of legal education and the associated debt can also impact a lawyer’s net earnings. Many law school graduates carry significant student debt, which can affect their financial decisions and career paths, especially in the initial years following graduation.


The salary of a lawyer in the United States can vary widely based on numerous factors, including specialization, geographic location, type of legal practice, and experience. While the potential for high earnings exists, especially in lucrative practice areas and locations, aspiring lawyers should consider the full range of financial implications, including the cost of education and market demand for specific legal expertise.


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