The fact of the matter is that money is important, regardless of how much you enjoy the practice of law; this is especially true if you are new to the profession and considering how much you will make in your first year as a lawyer.
Whether you are a law student or a recent graduate just starting (perhaps also responsible for the costs of your legal education), having an understanding of the range of potential first-year lawyer salaries can give you more realistic expectations for how much money you can earn.
However, what is the typical starting salary for a first-year attorney in the United States right now? How much money is it reasonable to expect to bring in once you begin working as an attorney? In the following guide, we will go over the typical starting salary for a first-year attorney in the United States, as well as the primary factors that determine a recent graduate’s starting salary.
Therefore, taking into account both the average base salary and the average additional pay, the estimated total pay for a first-year attorney in the United States is approximately $89,644 per year. This figure takes into account both of these factors.
Keep in mind that the average salary for a first-year lawyer is determined by a number of factors, some of which include your geographic location, the size of the firm you work for, and the type of legal work that you perform (we will discuss this topic in more detail later).
First-year lawyer salaries and job prospects
Even before you find your first job in the legal field, you should think about the bigger picture, specifically your current and future salary potential as well as job prospects. The United States legal sector is anticipated to expand, which is excellent news for attorneys working in the country.
To be more specific, the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts growth and good prospects for lawyers both now and in the years to come. This is driven by the continued demand for legal services combined with the requirement to replace lawyers who are leaving their roles (for different occupations) or leaving the labor force (for retirement).
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the employment of lawyers will increase by 10% between the years 2021 and 2031, which is faster than the average growth for all occupations. In terms of employment opportunities, the BLS forecasts that there will be an annual average of 48,700 job openings for lawyers over the next 10 years.
Read More: Law Firm Types: Which One Is Best for You?
Factors impacting first-year lawyer salaries
Although it is beneficial to have an understanding of the general job prospects and the average salary for a first-year lawyer in the United States, it is important to remember that each company, location, and position is unique, and the specific salary for first-year lawyers varies depending on the individual’s circumstances.
The following are some of the most important factors that determine a recent graduate’s starting salary.
Salaries and location
When it comes to the potential earnings of lawyers, location is one of the most important factors. At every point in their careers, attorneys, on average, make more or less money depending on the state they practice law in (and sometimes even the city). Suppose you are interested in becoming a lawyer. In that case, it is helpful to have an understanding of the typical rates charged in your geographic area before beginning your first year of practice.
You can look at the 2022 Legal Trends Report in addition to looking at the salary ranges for first-year lawyer jobs in your area. This report is available on the website. The Legal Trends Report provides information on the hourly rates that lawyers earn in each state. The District of Columbia and New York top the list with hourly rates of $424 and $378, respectively. The report also provides data on adjusted rates that take into account the cost of living in each state. On this list, the District of Columbia has the highest rate at $359, while Delaware is in second place with an adjusted rate of $351.
You can also check out the hourly rate calculator to quickly compare hourly rates by state. This calculator uses aggregated and anonymized billing data from legal professionals working in all 50 states.
Salaries and law school
When it comes to evaluating potential law schools, some of the most important considerations for many students are things like tuition cost, location, and law school rankings. However, your school of choice may also be a factor in the equation when thinking about your first-year earning potential after graduation.
When you become a lawyer, graduating from certain law schools could make you eligible for higher-paying positions, as shown by an analysis of alum salaries conducted by OnlineU one year after graduates received their degrees.
For instance, while the study suggests that attending Ivy League schools like Columbia University (which ranked highest in median salary at $193,362) may offer new law grads a higher earning potential, it also shows that certain public universities like UVA Law also show high alum salaries (the median salary for UVA law grads after one year was $185,710). This is because Ivy League schools tend to have a reputation for producing well-educated students who are well-prepared for the legal profession.
You can always look for ways to help yourself stand out from the other students in your class when it comes time to look for your first job as a lawyer, and this is true regardless of where you go to law school. Do not undervalue the power of skills that go beyond the scope of traditional legal knowledge when you are looking for ways to set yourself apart from others in the legal field.
You can start working on these skills even before you graduate from college to give yourself an advantage in the job market. Employers place a high value on “soft skills” (i.e., interpersonal skills) and technical expertise. For example, the Academic Access Program (CAAP) gives students in clinical and classroom settings free access. This allows students to develop their technical skills, gain experience, and better prepare themselves for the future of the legal profession before joining a firm.
“The biggest impact of having in our clinical programs has been that our students have grown comfortable managing cases from start to finish using one seamless platform,” notes Doug Edmunds, Certified Consultant and academic from the University of North Carolina. “This has been the result of having in our clinical programs.” “From document management to client engagement to time keeping, has helped them understand that the practice of law in today’s modern world can be more efficient and effective when the appropriate technology is in place.”
Salaries and practice area
Your choice of practice area is another factor that frequently affects your potential earnings. According to the 2022 Legal Trends Report, the average hourly rates for lawyers vary by practice area, with more specialized roles typically drawing in higher rates, which likely means higher salaries. This variation in hourly rates is reflected in the range of salaries.
Again, the hourly rate calculator that provides is a useful tool: Utilize it to quickly compare rates in your selected state by practice area.
In addition, the hub titled “How to Become a Lawyer” is a helpful resource that can provide you with additional details on how to become a particular kind of lawyer if you are thinking about becoming an attorney in a particular practice area. This all-encompassing guide covers eight distinct areas of legal practice, ranging from immigration law to criminal law and beyond. In addition, you have the option of taking our “What Kind of Lawyer Should I Be?” quiz to assist you in making your decision.
Salaries and law firm
When it comes to the salary that you can expect to make during your first year as a lawyer, one of the most important factors is the law firm that you join. The salaries offered by larger law firms are typically higher than those offered by smaller law firms. However, higher pay is not always guaranteed by working for a larger law firm, and other factors can affect overall compensation throughout a longer period.
Although it is generally true that “Big Law” firms offer the highest starting salaries, it is also the case that new lawyers at smaller law firms may begin their careers with lower pay; however, their salaries have a greater potential to increase more quickly as their careers progress. This topic is discussed in greater depth in the article that we have written about what it’s like to work in a law firm.
Final thoughts on first-year lawyer salaries
As the preceding sections have shown, the amount of money you will make in your first year as a lawyer is largely determined by a variety of factors, including your geographic location, the law school from which you graduated, the practice area in which you intend to specialize, and the law firm for which you intend to work.
When you take into account all of the factors, you will be in a position to make well-informed decisions about the path you will take when you first begin your legal career. Ideally, you will find a position that is compatible with both your informed expectations and your financial constraints.
You can always look for opportunities to scale your salary as you advance in your career, which is especially important in the legal industry as job opportunities continue to grow. This is true even if you begin your career making less money than you desire to make from the very beginning.
Make sure you take a look at the Legal Trends Report in order to gain additional comprehension of the condition of the legal industry.