TJ PorterBy T.J. Porter, WCI Contributor

Law, like medicine, is a profession that involves significant time dedicated to education. Lawyers are also typically highly compensated professionals, earning far more than the average American’s salary. Of particular interest to physicians is the fact that there is significant room for crossover between the legal and medical professions. Some lawyers specialize in medical and healthcare litigation, and these lawyers are among the best-paid in the nation. Today, let's talk about how much lawyers can make.


Average Lawyer Salary and Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a strong source of information about income and employment levels in different careers. According to data from 2021, the median lawyer earned just under $128,000 per year. Compare that to the average compensation of between $265,000-$382,000 that physicians received in 2023.

However, pay can vary widely based on location, experience, and specialization, so some will earn more and some will earn less. For example, a new public defender can expect to earn far less. The bottom 10% of lawyers make $61,400 per year while the top earners make more than $208,000 per year.

It’s also worth noting that the BLS estimates that the demand for lawyers will continue to increase, projecting a 10% rise in job opportunities between 2021-2031, which is faster than the average. For comparison, the BLS expects the growth in number of physicians and surgeons to be lower than average at just 3%.


How Much Do Lawyers Make an Hour?

According to the BLS, the typical lawyer makes $61.54 per hour. That number assumes a median income of $128,000 per year for those working a typical 40-hour work week.

However, many lawyers find themselves working more than 40 hours a week. According to data from Indeed, only lawyers who worked for government agencies or public employers could expect to work a normal 9-5 schedule. Those working for small-to-medium-sized firms worked between 42-54 hours each week while those employed by large firms worked as much as 66 hours per week.

Keep in mind that government lawyers and small-firm lawyers tend to make the least amount of money while big-firm lawyers make the most. Given the amount each works, it’s likely that actual hourly income is far lower than $61.54 per hour. ZipRecruiter estimates that the average lawyer earns $47.04 an hour. 


How Much Do First-Year Lawyers Make?

Each year, the Above the Law in-house compensation survey collects data from lawyers about their earnings. It offers a wealth of information about lawyer pay for attorneys who work for law firms. According to the survey, 30% of attorneys in the first five years of their career earn between $100,000-$149,999, and 29% make between $150,000-$199,999. On the higher end of the pay spectrum, 24% make $200,000- $249,999 and just 6% make $250,000 or more. Meanwhile, 10% make $100,000 or less.

Here's the chart for salaries for those with 1-5 years of experience.


lawyers salary 1-5 years


More experienced lawyers, those with 11-15 years of experience, earn notably more. Of those in practice 11-15 years, 35% earn between $200,000-$249,999, and 18% reported earning $250,000-$299,999. Just 25% reported making $150,000-$199,999, and none reported earning less than $100,000.

Here's the chart for salaries for those with 11-15 years of experience.


lawyers salary 11-15 years


These numbers all refer to base pay. For some lawyers, bonuses make up a large portion of their compensation. Only 14% of attorneys reported receiving no bonus. Of those who received bonuses, more than half saw bonuses of less than their base pay, but 14% received as much as 60%-100% of their base pay in additional bonus income.


What Industry Makes the Most Money?

The Above the Law survey breaks lawyers down into eight specialties. Media and Entertainment is the specialty with the largest percentage of high earners. Of the lawyers specializing in this area, 17% earn $400,000 or more per year. Nearly half reported earning between $150,000-$250,000 annually, and none reported earning less than $100,000.

Finance and banking is the next specialty by the percentage of top earners, though the dropoff is large. Only 8% of lawyers practicing in this area reported earning $400,000 or more. Again, none earned less than $100,000, and half earned $150,000-$250,000.

These numbers all refer to base pay. Media and Entertainment lawyers received reasonable bonuses in the 20%-29% range. Finance lawyers saw much larger bonuses with more than 25% receiving bonuses equal to between 60%-100% of their base pay.


lawyers bonus by industry


One specialty that can be difficult to judge is technology. Of attorneys in tech, 33% reported earning stock compensation equal to 25% or more of their base pay. This form of compensation can be difficult to properly value, and it could wind up worth significant amounts or worth relatively little in the long run.


Medical Lawyer Pay

Many lawyers opt to specialize in law that relates to healthcare or medicine. Pay in this industry tends to be in the middle of the road with 36% of respondents to the survey earning between $200,000-$249,999. Lower earnings in the $150,000-$199,999 range were reported by 18%, and another 18% fell in the $250,000-$299,999 range, putting more than 60% of lawyers in the healthcare field between $150,000-$300,000.

Most lawyers in healthcare receive a bonus. Roughly 15% reported no bonus with the remaining earning some additional income. The most common bonus range was 20%-29% of base pay.

how much do lawyers make


Lawyer Pay by Area of Practice

In addition to focusing on specific topics, lawyers often specialize in a certain practice. For example, an attorney may focus on intellectual property law or litigation.

Corporate lawyers had the largest share of top earners with 8% reporting incomes in excess of $400,000. Commercial law had the smallest share with 4% earning $400,000 or more annually.

Intellectual property lawyers tended to be the best-compensated with almost 80% reporting an annual base pay of $200,000 or more.


Lawyer Pay by Location

In general, lawyers living in larger cities reported higher pay. Of lawyers living in cities of 1 million or more, 31% reported earnings of $200,000-$249,999 compared to 27% of attorneys in smaller cities. The most common pay range for attorneys in cities under 1 million people was $150,000-$199,999. Earning less than $150,000 was reported by 18% of lawyers while just 8% of those in large cities earned less than $150,000.


lawyer base pay in cities


The region of the country also plays a role in compensation. Only 7% of lawyers in New England and the Southwest earned more than $400,000, and attorneys in those areas otherwise had slightly lower pay than other regions. The Mid-Atlantic had the highest proportion of attorneys earning $250,000 or more at just under 50%.


Lawyer Pay by Gender

As with many professions, there is a gender-based wage gap. According to the report, female attorneys tend to earn less than their male colleagues. More women than men reported earnings in each pay band under $250,000 per year, but 16% of both men and women reported earnings between $250,000-$299,999.


lawyer base pay by gender


Just 15% of women reported earnings of $300,000 or more compared to 23% of men. This trend also holds when it comes to bonuses. More women than men reported earning bonuses of 40% of their base pay or less while men are more likely than women to earn bonuses greater than 40% of their base pay.


The Bottom Line

As with medicine, attorney compensation can vary widely depending on the type of work the attorney does, where they live, and how much experience they have. If you’re considering a career in law or want to try to apply your medical knowledge in a new industry, having information on lawyer pay can be helpful.

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