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Parents often want their children to become lawyers. Most people view lawyers as well-paid professionals with reliable careers.
But how much do lawyers actually earn? What other jobs are available to law students? And is law school debt worth the headache? Here’s what anyone considering a career as a lawyer should know about salaries, including how much lawyers make per year and per hour.
How much do lawyers earn?
In the United States, a lawyer typically earns over $126,000 per year, or $60.58 per hour. However, their salaries largely depend on factors such as area of law practiced, experience, and location.
Here are the highest-paying legal practice areas and highest-paying states for attorneys.
Highest Paying Areas of Legal Practice for Lawyers
There are different aspects of the law, and lawyers usually choose one or more to focus on. Here are the highest paying practice areas for lawyers.
- Securities and Exchange Commission Act: SEC attorneys help keep publicly traded companies compliant with their legal obligations to their shareholders. Under Georgetown law, these attorneys help a private company go public, assist with communications between the SEC and a public company, and ensure that it meets all SEC filing and reporting requirements.
- The average annual salary for an SEC attorney is about $186,020, or just over $89 per hour.
- Wholesale Trade and Manufacturing Law: Wholesale and manufacturing lawyers learn all they can about their clients’ businesses. Once done, these attorneys consult with their clients about the legal risks of their business and what they can do to protect themselves.
- A lawyer who practices wholesale and manufacturing law earns about $182,820 a year, or nearly $88 an hour.
- Natural Gas Distribution Act: Lawyers for the distribution of natural gas assist in the development of agreements surrounding the dispersion of this product. According to Snell & Wilmer, they also engage in activities such as acquisitions, divestitures, infrastructure development, environmental and regulatory advice, dispute resolution and litigation.
- On average, a lawyer whose practice area focuses on natural gas distribution earns about $179,870 per year, or about $86.50 per hour.
Highest-paying US states and metropolitan areas
Lawyer salaries generally vary by state and metro area. Here are the top five states where a lawyer typically earns the most.
|State||Average annual salary of a lawyer||Average hourly wage of a lawyer for a 40-hour work week|
|District of Colombia||$198,820||$95.59|
The five highest-paying metropolitan areas for lawyers are:
|Metropolitan area||Average annual salary of a lawyer||Average hourly wage of a lawyer for a 40-hour work week|
|San Jose, California.||$231,200||$111.15|
|San Francisco, California.||$191,460||$92.05|
|Washington, District of Columbia||$186,610||$89.72|
|New York, NY||$179,060||$86.09|
|Los Angeles, California.||$177,550||$85.36|
What other legal careers should law students consider?
Law students who have difficulty finding a job as a lawyer or who simply want to follow another path have several options. Here are some of the best.
Court clerks are essentially assistants to magistrates. These professionals assist in researching case law, reviewing trial records, and drafting memoranda and judicial opinions.
On average, a court clerk earns about $50,750 per year.
Mediators are objective parties who help resolve disputes. In some cases, mediation may be a contractually binding course of action, while in others, litigants attempt mediation before a full-fledged trial. Mediators listen to both sides of the argument and attempt to find common ground that will lead to a peaceful resolution of the issue.
A mediator typically earns around $49,410 per year.
U.S. Army Judge Advocate
Military tribunals that are not accessible to the general public or attorneys general deal with disputes that arise in the military. The U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps focuses on several areas of law, including criminal, international, administrative, and operational law. These lawyers can also serve as liaisons with the judicial authorities of allied nations.
On average, a U.S. Army Judge Advocate in the United States earns about $75,547 per year.
What should students know about law school debt?
It is estimated that approximately 65% of students graduate from college with student debt and the outstanding amount is approximately $37,113. This amount increases a little when private loans are taken into account, reaching approximately $40,904.
Lawyers graduate with far more debt than the average American student. In comparison, about 74.1% of law students graduate with debt, which amounts to about $118,400 upon graduation. However, those attending one of the top 10 law schools in the country can expect to graduate with student debt of around $155,300.
Is Law School Debt Worth It?
Fewer than one in four law graduates say a legal career was worth the cost of education. This is understandable given that the average lawyer salary is around $126,000 in the United States. At this income level, lawyers will need to work more than a full year to cover the cost of their education before adding interest, fees, and other living expenses.
Lawyers enjoy careers that offer a certain level of freedom. However, those who do not end up in the highest-paying practice areas or in the highest-paying cities and states may experience a greater burden associated with education costs.
Frequently Asked Questions
College applicants considering becoming lawyers will likely have several questions. Here are some of the most common.
- Do lawyers really make a lot of money?
- The average lawyer earns $127,990 – or $61.54 per hour – while the average American salary currently sits at around $58,260 – or $28.01 per hour. Compared to the national average, lawyers earn more than twice the average income, which is a lot of money.
- Why are lawyers so rich?
- Lawyers earn a significant income that is more than twice the average American salary. As a result, a single lawyer will bring more income to the household than a married couple who both have average careers, which makes lawyers look wealthy.
- How many years does it take to study to become a lawyer?
- Outside compulsory education – kindergarten to 12th grade – lawyers study for seven years. Law students spend four years in undergraduate studies and another three years in law school.
- How Much Does Harvard Law School Cost?
- Students typically pay around $107,350 a year to attend Harvard Law School – in addition to course registration, this amount includes other expenses, such as textbooks, meals, student housing, supplies, and travel. Because law school takes about three years, a Harvard law student will need to pay around $321,000 to complete their law degree in that amount of time.
Information is accurate as of April 28, 2022.
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