How Much Attorney Make?

Becoming an attorney requires an enormous investment of both undergraduate and law school tuition fees; however, its potential returns are great.

Lawyer salaries depend heavily on your chosen field and firm size, with hourly rates often differing significantly by state. Clio offers an effective tool for comparing hourly rates across jurisdictions.

1. Entry-level salaries

Entry-level attorney salaries depend on where, what sector and size of law firm one works in. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyers working in private practice earn an annual median wage of approximately $190,000. Conversely, lawyers holding judicial clerkships or working for government have lower average annual wages – around $62,000 on average.

Janet Hutchinson, associate dean for career development at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia, states that lawyers’ pay varies significantly depending on where they work. If they join a large law firm that utilizes Cravath scale salaries, for instance, starting salaries could start around $225,000.

But if you want to increase your starting salary as an entry-level attorney, there are various strategies for increasing it. Switch to another law firm which pays more for your skills or gain managerial experience by supervising more junior attorneys.

2. Mid-level salaries

Over the last 15 years, salaries at large firms have seen much faster salary increases than at midsize and small firm levels, leading some observers to describe them as two-tier legal profession. Big Law attorneys typically earn much higher salaries while those working as prosecutors/public defenders/corporate/nonprofit roles typically receive much smaller paychecks.

New York City lawyers typically enjoy the highest starting salaries, followed by attorneys working for large firms in San Francisco and Washington D.C. However, salaries vary considerably by state and municipality – for instance a federal lawyer earns an annual salary of only $192,180 while lawyers working in California or DC typically make more than this figure.

Some midsize firms, like Denver-based Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell, have offered starting salaries for junior associates of $180,000 as an attempt to attract top talent. Meanwhile, other firms, like California’s Hanson Bridgett, refuse to compete with larger firms on salaries alone.

3. High-level salaries

No one goes into law solely for financial gain, but money certainly plays a part in choosing this rewarding profession. Lawyers boast one of the highest median salaries among medical practitioners – making their career one of the most financially rewarding ones available today.

Particularly true for attorneys working in major city markets such as New York, where attorneys in this highly specialized field often command significantly higher salaries due to their proven track record and client base.

As such, many attorneys make six figures or more after they have established themselves in their careers. Therefore, law firms must set compensation levels that provide this opportunity; otherwise lawyers could become complacent with their earnings and lose drive – leading to an eventual decline in performance that’s difficult to halt. To prevent this scenario from arising, firms should implement progression policies and processes which ensure all attorneys reach the desired level of competence.

4. Bonuses

Though most attorney salaries are determined by base salary alone, law firms also often offer bonuses as rewards for hard work done by attorneys; often exceeding standard base salaries in some instances. Boutique firms may even compete more effectively on this front by providing generous bonus payments compared to Biglaw firms on this front.

Bonus structures may seem complex, but they’re an integral component of any firm’s performance and profitability. Objective bonus plans usually factor in billable hours, collections and profits as goals; their most successful implementation requires being transparent and clear for everyone involved; unclear payment schedules could discourage employees from working hard.

Law firms also pay their attorneys summer and fall bonuses, while some offer signing bonuses to attract new talent. Bonus payments often depend on geographical location or practice area – the Cravath Scale has long been recognized for governing Biglaw bonuses; many big firms compete on this front.