Highest and Lowest Paying Legal Jobs

  • Within the legal community, the same job title can pay very differently
  • Taking pay into consideration when figuring out which field of law you may want to specialize in may be helpful
  • Just because you’re getting paid less rarely means you have less work

After graduating law school and passing the bar exam, there are a multitude of practice fields that any lawyer can choose to pursue.

If you’re unsure exactly how you want to proceed, considering which jobs pay the most and which pay the least may be especially important to help you make the right decision.

Highest Paying

Intellectual Property: Intellectual Property law is a wide body of law that works to protect any creative property (i.e., drawings, music, photography, art). With new innovations and improvements brought on by technology and the increased support for creativity, intellectual property law is becoming more and more lucrative. With the average base salary at $170,722 plus the average additional cash compensation upwards of $180,000, IP lawyers do better than most of their peers.

General Counsel (Chief Legal Officer): Serving as the main lawyer for a company or governmental department, general counsel is responsible for coming up with strategic and calculated legal proposals. With an average salary anywhere from $160,000 to $260,000, depending on the company you represent, and commission on top of that, general counsel does very well. While in-house lawyers don’t work as many hours as a lawyer in Big Law would, most don’t work magical 9 to 5 hours.

Trial Lawyers: A trial lawyer, much like the name suggests, represents clients in court cases. Their job is to display all the facts in the case and present them in a way that will prove their client’s position to the jury. The average salary of a trial lawyer is around $102,791, but some trial lawyers can bring in quite a large sum of money. With this generous salary, trial lawyers work long hours, sometimes giving up weekends to prepare for upcoming cases.

Employment: An employment lawyer regulates the relationship between employer and employee. They cover things such as wages, working hours, and hiring rules. An employment lawyer can advise either employer or employee on local, state, or federal employment laws. Employment lawyers have an average salary of $140,000 plus additional cash compensation.

Real Estate: A real estate attorney handles all documents relating to real estate. They prepare and review documents such as purchase agreements, title documents, and more. The average salary for a real estate lawyer is around $143,000. Long hours and working on the weekends are the norm in order to get documents ready in time for closings, purchases, and any other transactions.

How much does salary affect your career path?

Lowest Paying

Public defender: Public defenders are employed by the government but work for anyone who cannot pay for an attorney. The overall average salary of a public defender is anywhere from $46,000 to $58,000 per year. Long hours come with a job as a public defender, with many having as many as 200 cases at a time.

Immigration: An immigration attorney can help people become citizens in new countries, as well as represent a person threatened with deportation. Immigration attorneys make an average of $66,000 and most find themselves working a 50 to 60-hour week. With a caseload anywhere from 30 to 90 cases at a time, immigration attorneys have a lot on their plates.

Legal Aid/Services Attorney: Legal aid or services attorneys work for not-for-profit agencies that provide free legal help for those who cannot afford to hire their own attorney. This is very similar to a public defender except instead of being employed by the government, you work for a private agency. On average, legal aid/services attorneys make around $70,000 a year.

Paralegal: Although a paralegal job isn’t a lawyer position, many law school graduates contemplate taking a job as a paralegal if it’s their only option—when the economy isn’t strong and it’s all but impossible to find a position as an attorney, sometimes new lawyers have to take what they can get. A paralegal assists an attorney in preparing for their trials, hearings, and closings. They also conduct research and gather information that is relevant to the case. Paralegals have an average salary of $50,000 but have a more reasonable and manageable work schedule.

While these salaries and job descriptions are averages across the country, it’s important to consider that depending on the firm, the state, and your experience, these numbers can vary wildly.