Highest Paid Lawyers and Legal Jobs

Compiling compensation data for specializations within the legal field is next to impossible, at least if you want to do it accurately and on a national scale. At first, the goal of this article was to research, identify, and report the specific average salaries for civil rights, corporate, criminal, labor, environmental, health, immigration, international, real estate, sports and entertainment, and tax attorneys, but there is no one singular credible resource that benchmarks  earnings and compensation and breaks it down into those categories. Instead, I had to piecemeal data from a number of references, use my own judgement, and normalize the averages to represent national annual salaries.

Highest Paying Lawyer JobsAdditionally, it is important to note that you may come across multiple eHow.com articles that claim to offer the average salary of an immigration attorney or international law attorney. Frankly, these are a joke. Offering a “range from $30,000 to over $100,000” is not an “average”, and then providing averages for specific cities, such as New York, D.C., and Delaware does not constitute a national mean. So what happens if you live in Riverside, CA or Houston, TX? Plus, that’s a huge range – most people in the United States fall in that bracket, so how helpful is saying that?

Furthermore, statistics from SimplyHired.com quickly uncover an algorithm conveniently developed for widespread use, with little accuracy for specific areas of expertise within the legal field. For example, it would be hardly conceivable that the average international law attorney, according to SimplyHired, only makes $68,000/year.

In this article about the highest paid lawyers and legal careers, we’ll provide you more realistic averages – ones that corroborates the fact that becoming an attorney gets you the 5th highest paying job in America, after doctors and surgeons, orthodontists and dentists, CEOs, and petroleum engineers.

If you are considering a career in law or are currently attending law school, make sure to carefully weigh the pros and cons of your specialty. Gajizmo.com is proud to present our list of the top highest paid lawyers and legal professionals, as well as the best paying states and cities for attorneys.

1. Intellectual Property Lawyers

  • Average: $170,000; depending on your expertise and clients, compensation can reach the millions.
  • Description: Intellectual property law focuses on the protection of inventor’s and businesses’ legal rights in protecting their discoveries, innovations, trademarks, and patents. Most IP lawyers specialize in a particular sector or area. If a lawyer has technical or engineering skills, he/she may be interested in patent law regarding technology and trade negotiations, whereas a copyright lawyer will represent authors, artists, production companies, and studios. In addition to litigation, IP lawyers can be involved in negotiating contracts, mergers and acquisitions, and the valuation of intellectual property. The top intellectual property lawyers usually work in firms that represent Silicon Valley giants, such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Oracle,  Yahoo, eBay, Netflix, etc.

2. Trial Lawyers

  • Average: $160,000; the nation’s top private trial lawyers can earn millions.
  • Description: Trial lawyers represent clients during criminal and civil litigation (lawsuits). Criminal lawyers include private attorneys representing plaintiffs or defendants, as well as prosecutors, ADAs (Assistant District Attorneys) or DAs (District Attorneys) who represent the “people” or the justice system (government). Trial lawyers review evidence and files, take depositions, interact with clients, judges and opposing counsel, and argue motions and cases.

3. Chief Legal Officers

  • Average: $160,000; the nation’s largest corporations pay their general counsels in the millions as well.
  • Description: Chief legal officers, or general counsels, lead the legal departments for companies. Some general counsels for large corporations can reach compensation in the seven figures, such that the larger the corporation, the larger the compensation for the position. Total compensation for chief legal officers can include salary, bonuses, stock options, comprehensive benefit packages, and other perks. According to the Law Department Compensation Benchmarking Survey, chief legal officers at large U.S. corporations earned an average of $475,000 in salary, with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in non-cash awards. Such large American corporations include Kinder Morgan, CVS, Edison, KBR, Qualcomm, Visa, Aetna, Live Nation, Time Warner Cable, Hess Corporation, Owens Corning, Western Digital, Chevron, Philip Morris, Halliburton, Coca-Cola, Abbot Laboratories, KKR, Occidental Petroleum Corporation, etc.

4. Tax Law Attorneys

  • Average: $160,000
  • Description: Tax attorneys specialize in working with business entities and individual taxpayers to solve tax issues, including relief/avoidance (minimizing tax liability), guidance during an audit, estate planning, defending or bringing suit against the IRS or State Revenue Department, drafting contracts and setting up companies while doing business.

5. Employment and Labor Attorneys

  • Average: $155,000
  • Description: Employment and labor attorneys help workers and/or employers with issues regarding wages, pension and benefits, unlawful termination, workplace safety and injury, family leave, unions, labor laws and regulations, sexual harassment, discrimination, etc. Labor lawyers may represent an individual employee, a group of employees, job applicants, unions, interest groups, and businesses to defend or file suit against other parties impinging on their rights.

6. Judges

  • Average: $155,000; judges within the Federal court system earn the most and local judges/magistrates the least.
  • Description: Judges preside over court hearings/proceedings in federal, state, or local courts. Judges are appointed or elected public officials who are impartial mediators that listen to and evaluate arguments and motions made by opposing parties to determine if the evidence and case should proceed to trial, and if so, oversees the trial. Judges ensure that cases proceed according to the rules and laws, as well as analyze, research, and apply laws and precedents to reach fair judgements or settlements, and then finally write opinions and/or decisions regarding the dispute.

7. Real Estate Attorneys

  • Average: $150,000
  • Description: Real estate lawyers focus on all aspects of real property, such as ownership of land and buildings, who has the right to use it, the sale and purchase of real property, easements, compliance with local, state and federal permits and regulations, landlord and tenant contracts, and construction deals. Real estate lawyers may also specialize in a particular type – the oil, gas, and natural resource industries require acquisitions or easements to expand drilling, production, and/or excavation. Similarly, environmental lawyers working for governmental agencies or corporations work on air and water quality, protecting the environment against hazardous wastes, licensing, energy trade regulation, or ensuring businesses abide by the laws and regulations to avoid litigation and liability.

8. Law School Professors

  • Average: $150,000
  • Description: Law school professors primarily teach classes/courses on different aspects of the law, while performing research for scholarly publication. By publishing their work and establishing themselves as an expert in their field, law professors bring prestige for themselves as well as their respective educational institutions. Increasing law school salaries may be attributed to higher tuition and enrollment numbers. Nearly 45,000 law degrees will be earned this year, and the number of new law schools is on the rise; however, positions are still competitive.

9. Law Firm Administrators

  • Average: $145,000; managers in major cities, such as New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Chicago, average significantly higher salaries, almost $400,000.
  • Description: Law firm administrators, also known as chief managing officers, oversee and manage the business-side of running a law firm, including strategic partnerships, financial management and reporting, personnel, marketing, brand and practice management, business development, human resources, etc. Most CMOs work fewer hours than senior partners and are not required to have a law degree.

10. Immigration and Civil Rights Lawyers

  • Average: $125,000
  • Description: Immigration lawyers focus on government policies relating to foreign nationals immigrating temporarily or permanently. Immigration law deals with the legal rights and duties of aliens, the process of naturalization (immigrants becoming U.S. citizens), the care and treatment of refugees, cases of illegal immigration, etc. On the other hand, civil rights lawyers specialize in the balance of power between the government and its people. Most civil rights attorneys work for government agencies, non-profits, or advocate groups. The most well-known employer for civil rights attorneys is the NAACP, also known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The organization’s mission is to promote political, educational, social and economic equality amongst all races.

Best Paying States For Lawyers

1. District of Columbia

  • Average: $160,000
  • Number of Lawyers: 30,000

2. California

  • Average: $158,000
  • Number of Lawyers: 70,000

3. Delaware

  • Average: $153,000
  • Number of Lawyers: 3,000

4. New York

  • Average: $151,000
  • Number of Lawyers: 70,000

5. Connecticut

  • Average: $147,000
  • Number of Lawyers: 8,000

Top Paying Major Cities For Lawyers

1. San Jose, CA

  • Average: $190,000
  • Number of Lawyers: 8,000

2. San Francisco, CA

  • Average: $178,000
  • Number of Lawyers: 10,000

3. Oxnard/Thousand Oaks/Ventura, CA

  • Average: $170,000
  • Number of Lawyers: 1,500

4. Los Angeles, CA

  • Average: $170,000
  • Number of Lawyers: 25,000

5. New York City, NY

  • Average: $167,000
  • Number of Lawyers: 52,000

6. Houston/Sugar Land/Baytown, TX

  • Average: $165,000
  • Number of Lawyers: 10,000

7. Washington, D.C.

  • Average: $160,000
  • Number of Lawyers: 40,000