What Type of Lawyers Make the Most Money?

One reason young people decide to join the legal profession is to make a fortune. All lawyers make lots of money. Is this statement true? Or is it a common myth? How much do lawyers make in 2022, according to the world report? Why do some lawyers choose a specific specialty and become disappointed?

The fact is that a lawyer can make different amounts of money depending on his or her specialty. Also, those who have been practicing law for years already know that there are many other factors that can affect how much money one actually makes. This article will review different types of lawyers and the salaries they make, including a variety of factors that may affect the salary.

What Kind of Lawyer Makes the Most Money?

What are the highest-paid lawyers? The median annual wage for a lawyer’s salary was $127,990 in May 2021. An average starting lawyer salary is $73,000. Some of the highest-paid types of lawyers and most lucrative specialties include the following:

Patent Attorneys (A median salary — $265,392 per year)

Patent lawyers are among the highest-paid types of lawyers and earn one of the highest median salaries in the legal field. These legal professionals advise clients about patents so their clients can obtain patents granted by patent offices around the world. The salary differs depending on the state (ranging from $24,826 to $668,655).

Family Attorneys (A median salary — $213,447 per year)

Family attorneys are another high-paid attorney’s industry. The field of family law is expansive, so legal professionals have a variety of areas to choose from. 

In general, a family attorney helps clients through their cases so they can achieve an optimal resolution through a settlement process. The salary differs depending on the state (ranging from $44,617 to $797,929). 

Environmental Attorneys (A median salary — $125,000 per year)

Environmental lawyers can become an excellent career choice, especially for those who have prior experience in a regulated industry. Environmental professionals in law advise on the environmental consequences of pursuing particular corporate activities so clients can eliminate potential hazards in the future. The salary is high across the states (ranging from $34,720 to $799,563).

Real Estate Attorneys (A median salary — $123,951 per year)

Real Estate attorneys’ duties include preparing and reviewing different paperwork involved in purchasing or selling real estate property. They can represent either buyer or seller at closing. The salary is high across the states (ranging from $55,870 to $460,000).

Divorce Attorneys (A median salary — $121,978 per year)

Divorce attorneys specialize in the relationships of the people involved in the context of a family (questions concerning divorce, child welfare, adoption, abuse, neglect, marriage, etc.). The salary is high across the states (ranging from $25,415 to $679,997).

Tax Lawyers (A median salary — $120,910 per year)

A specialized tax attorney represents organizations in their dealings with federal, state, and local tax agencies. To protect assets and create tax savings plans, corporations and large companies pay a great deal of money to attorneys who specialize in tax laws. U.S. tax law is extremely complex, and tax attorneys must stay up-to-date with changes that may affect their clients. Tax professionals must continually study the changing structure of tax law, which involves continuous research and education. The salary across the states varies and ranges from $58,220 to $208,000.

Intellectual Property Attorneys (A median salary — $115,820 per year)

Attorneys specializing in intellectual property (IP) deal with patents, trademarks, and copyrights. There are high earnings potentials in this field because intellectual property has grown rapidly. Lawyers in this field practice in a fast-paced environment, which requires them to stay abreast of constantly changing laws and procedures. On the frontlines of protecting intellectual property, they work for large private firms and in-house for big tech and big pharma companies. The salary of intellectual property attorneys ranges from  $54,180 to $187,200.

We’ve covered what kind of lawyers make the most money, but many lawyers across the country don’t focus on their paycheck. In addition to the mentioned types of attorneys, best trial attorneys, bankruptcy attorneys, probate law attorneys, and personal injury attorneys are other highly paid legal specialties. It is important to remember that the income a lawyer makes depends on a variety of factors, including the number of hours a lawyer puts in and the choices he or she makes when pursuing a career.

Legal Careers That Don’t Pay Well

When you know what lawyers make the most money, you may wonder about the lowest-paid jobs for lawyers. Law pay is rare among legal professionals. Choosing law as a career comes with its own set of motivations for each attorney. It is not unusual for lawyers to choose the legal field because they want to help others. Others practice law to serve the greater good. There are populations highly dependent on the expertise of lawyers who are knowledgeable in established rules to protect their legal rights.

Attorneys can be found in every specialization but often work as public prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, and family law attorneys. Frequently, attorneys who are passionate about supporting the public are employed by non-profits and government agencies that assist disadvantaged populations.

What Factors Influence the Salaries of Attorneys?

In addition to a chosen specialty, there are many other factors that can also affect an attorney’s income. These factors include:

1. Law firm size

Some attorneys never join a law firm and instead run their own law practices. While this allows them the most flexibility, it often results in lower compensation. Another option is working for a large firm, some of which employ hundreds of attorneys across the country and abroad.

2. Location

Just as with any other career, attorneys in large cities tend to make more money than those in small towns and rural communities.

3. Law school

Not all law schools are equal, and the potential for higher earnings comes with more prestigious schools, although that isn’t always the case. Some law students are better off spending half as much on school and starting their careers with a lot less student debt. It can be a trade-off because in the end it only matters whom you work for and how well you perform.

4. Expertise and experience

Experience and a skill set determine an attorney’s income. A first-year associate’s salary will never be comparable to that of a partner in a large law firm, no matter how talented he or she might be.

5. Legal aid vs. for-profit

In some of the nation’s biggest law firms, first-year associates can earn six figures; however, lawyers working for nonprofit organizations, such as legal aid generally earn less. Legal aid attorneys earned an average salary of $63,911 in 2021, according to Glassdoor. Salary ranges reported for lawyers working in legal aid ranged from $30,000 to $138,000 per year.

6. Sector of employment

Private-sector lawyers often earn salaries different from public sector lawyers, such as those employed by federal, state, and municipal government agencies. As a part of its effort to make government jobs more attractive to applicants from the private sector, the federal government aims to revise the salary ranges for positions in the General Service (GS) classification to ensure they are competitive with private-sector salaries. Generally, federal employee salaries should not differ more than 5 percent from private-sector salaries, according to the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990. A public-sector job for an attorney is not always as lucrative as one in the private sector. According to ZipRecruiter, government lawyers made an average salary of $90,718 in 2021.

7. Clientele

Lawyers are paid differently based on the clients they represent. Plaintiffs’ attorneys can earn hourly rates, retainers, and contingency fees if they represent parties that initiate lawsuits. Contingency fees are a percentage of the proceeds of a lawsuit or a settlement that a lawyer collects on behalf of his or her clients. They usually range from 25 to 35 percent. As in the case of plaintiffs, lawyers who represent defendants, who are being sued, may be paid by hourly rate, retainer, or a combination of the two.

8. Organizational hierarchy

Many law firms have a top-down hierarchy of equity partners, non-equity partners, senior associates, and junior associates. An equity partner or senior partner is a shareholder of the firm who gets a portion of its revenue as well as a salary based on her hourly rate charged to the firm’s clients. An employment website, PayScale, reports that the average salary for a law firm partner in the U.S. is $187,134 per year in 2021. Average pay ranged up to $440,000 after commissions, bonuses, and profit-sharing.

9. In-House Lawyers and Academics

A company’s in-house counsel is a lawyer who works on behalf of the company instead of representing a variety of clients independently as lawyers at law firms do. Attorneys who work as in-house counsel typically earn a salary the organization sets. In March 2021, Salary.com reported that an in-house counsel’s salary average was $226,689. There was a reported salary range of $192,038 to $263,822 for lawyers working for in-house firms.​

Teaching can be a lucrative step for lawyers as well. As of March 2021, Salary.com reported that law school professors earn an average salary of $173,258. Law school teachers reported an average salary range of $121,294 to $239,235.

Table of Average Salary of Different Types of Lawyers 2022 (From the Highest to the Lowest)

Conclusions

There’s a large difference in average salaries between different practice areas, especially about halfway down the list. The highest-paid lawyers make considerably more on average than the lowest-paid ones. As an example, medical lawyers earn more than average salaries, while family-law attorneys earn a salary that falls below the average.

As the median lawyer salaries aren’t representative of all lawyers, they just reflect the midpoint. The fields of law that make the most money can vary depending on whether you are self-employed or working for a firm; in big law or at a smaller firm; in-house; public or private sector; etc. Commercial or residential real estate attorneys have different requirements. For trial lawyers, on the other hand, it’s all a matter of talent and that ability to think fast on your feet.

These fields of law have also seen changes in the compensation over time. Lawyers who deal with estates used to occupy a higher place on the list, and IP attorneys have seen their compensation grow tremendously over the years due to high demand. You may also receive higher compensation, depending on where you live. There would be an enormous difference between a New York City IP lawyer’s average annual salary compared with an immigration lawyer’s salary compensation in Oregon, for example.

Article by Sofi Ostymchuk

Sofi Ostymchuk is a Content Lead and Legal Writer at Lawrina. Sofi manages the content on the blog, communicates with contributors, looks for interesting topics, and creates articles in cooperation with lawyers and law experts. If you would like to be a blogger for Lawrina, you can contact Sofi for all the details via email at s.ostymchuk@lawrina.com.

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