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How much do lawyers make?

How much do lawyers make?

Law careers are well known for commanding high salaries, but how much do lawyers actually make? This question is nearly as complex as the field of law itself, and there are several factors that can impact your earnings in this career. Learn more about how much lawyers get paid and why they receive the salaries they do.

How much do lawyers make hourly?

If you've ever worked with a lawyer, you'll know that they typically charge hourly for their time. In some instances, such as a car accident case, a lawyer may charge a flat fee to represent a client. In addition to this fee, the lawyer also takes a percentage of any amount awarded should their client win the case.

The upfront fees that lawyers charge vary by industry, experience, and location. These fees may seem high, but the upfront rate isn't necessarily what the lawyer takes home. If the lawyer runs their own law firm, they'll have business costs, such as liability insurance and rent for their office space. Lawyers often pay other staff members, including secretaries and paralegals. Lawyers also perform a lot of administrative tasks outside of billable hours, which brings their total hourly earnings down.

Lawyers have an ethical obligation to charge reasonable fees for their services. The reasonableness of the fee is determined by several factors, including:

  • The time and labor required to perform the legal service based on its novelty and complexity
  • The likelihood that the case will preclude the lawyer from accepting other cases
  • The customary rates in that location
  • The results of the case
  • The time limitations imposed on the case
  • The length and nature of the lawyer's relationship with the client
  • The reputation, experience, and skill of the lawyer
  • The nature of the fee (whether it's contingent or fixed)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean hourly wage for a lawyer in 2023 was $84.84. The median wage was slightly lower at $70.08. Lawyers with earnings in the top 25% of their industry made over $104.50 an hour, while those in the bottom 25% earned less than $47.13.

How much do lawyers make a month?

Lawyers rarely work 40 hours a week, particularly when involved in a big case. It's not uncommon for lawyers to work 80 hours a week or more. Lawyers in large law firms work an average of 66 hours a week. Those in small to medium-sized law firms work 42 to 54 hours a week. If you want to keep your hours low, look for a law job with the government. Lawyers employed by government agencies average just 40 hours a week.

A lawyer's earnings will likely vary depending on the month. Personal injury lawyers are busier in the winter months when there are more injuries and accidents from inclement weather. January sees a surge in divorce cases from couples who pushed through the holidays together only to opt for a divorce after the festivities. In warm-weather months, worker's compensation lawyers get more work, as physical labor picks up and hazardous hot-weather working conditions increase. 

For these reasons, the monthly salary of a lawyer is a poor indicator of their overall income. It's more telling to look at how much lawyers get paid over the course of a year.

How much do lawyers make a year?

The mean annual salary for a lawyer is $176,470, according to the BLS. The median annual wage for a lawyer is a little lower at $145,760. 

"The location where you work, your industry, your law specialty, and your experience all have a dramatic impact on your income as a lawyer in the United States."

Lawyers with annual wages in the top 25% of the occupation make over $216,360. Those with salaries in the bottom 25% make less than $98,030. 

Factors that impact how much lawyers get paid

Answering how much lawyers get paid per year is difficult because there are so many variables that come into play. The location where you work, your industry, your law specialty, and your experience all have a dramatic impact on your income as a lawyer in the United States.

Location

Salaries vary greatly by location due to the cost of living and the demand for qualified lawyers in the area. The highest-paying states for lawyers are:

  • District of Columbia: $238,990
  • California: $213,860
  • Delaware: $212,360
  • New York: $208,480
  • Connecticut: $195,730

Most of the highest-paying metropolitan areas for lawyers are within these states. For example, the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area of California is the highest-paying metropolitan area in the country with a mean annual wage of $268,570. The San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward area comes in fourth with a salary of $235,940. The Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk area of Connecticut has a mean annual salary of $252,210 for lawyers, which is the second-highest in the country.

Though Colorado didn't rank highly for its lawyers' wages overall, Boulder is the third-highest paying metropolitan area in the country with a mean wage of $251,490. The Washington-Arlington-Alexandria area of New England rounds out the top five, paying a mean wage of $223,890 per year.

Industry

Many of the highest-paying industries for lawyers also have some of the lowest employment levels, making these jobs extremely competitive. Water and sewage companies employ just 30 lawyers in the United States, but they're among the highest-paid in the country with a mean annual salary of $315,000. The 40 lawyers working with clothing and fashion accessory retailers earn a mean wage of $301,780 per year. 

The entertainment industry pays its lawyers extremely well. The motion picture and video industry offers a mean annual wage of $280,910. Lawyers who work with promoters in sports and performing arts have an outstanding salary as well, making $279,510 a year on average.

Specialty jobs like these are hard to come by. The broad industry known simply as legal services employs the vast majority of lawyers. In this area, you can expect a mean salary of $182,020.

Specialty

Lawyers can work in a range of specialty areas, each with distinct responsibilities, challenges, and skill sets. When you're writing a resume or job search profile for potential employers to find you, it's important to tailor the details to the niche area of law that you're most experienced and interested in.

A corporate lawyer, for example, focuses primarily on contracts, copyrights, and employment issues. Though this type of work may sound dry, it's one of the highest-paying specialties for lawyers with an average salary of $144,231. Providing solid legal advice to keep big businesses afloat can prove quite lucrative in a law career.

Trial lawyers are well paid with an average salary of $114,069. This is a more intense and fast-paced area of law. You must hone your public speaking and debate skills to make sure you can present your cases clearly and succinctly before a judge and jury. This can prove both exciting and stressful.

Some other specialties to consider include:

  • Tax law: $121,261
  • Family law: $103,571
  • Labor law: $97,846

If you're looking for a lucrative career in law, you have a wealth of opportunities available where you can typically command at least a six-figure salary. Hone your resume so you can make a positive impression in this highly competitive field.

More tips on finding a job as a lawyer and maximizing your salary

Explore earnings in different facets of the legal arena, such as that of an attorney who practices law in a courtroom.

Refine your skills by reviewing the essentials of a competitive lawyer's resume to help you get the best salary.

Consider where you'd most like to work as a lawyer and see which companies are actively hiring so you can start charting your career.