You may have seen movies and television shows depicting lawyers zipping around town in fancy sports cars and wearing expensive designer suits. Based on this, you may be one of many Americans who believe that all lawyers make six- and seven-figure incomes and have few financial concerns.
It’s certainly true that most attorneys make more than the national average salary of $56,310. According to U.S. News and World Report, the median salary for lawyers was $126,930 in 2020. But even within the legal field, there is quite a bit of variance between what different types of attorneys can make, whether they specialize in car accidents or class action suits.
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Factors That Determine Attorney Salary
Many factors can impact the wages a particular type of lawyer receives. These include:
The area of the country in which the attorney practices can influence their earning power. For example, an attorney who practices in a large metropolitan area like New York or San Diego can expect to bring in much more than one who practices in Amarillo or Boise.
Where a lawyer went to school can also affect how much they make. Generally, the more prestigious the school, the higher the salary – at least when a lawyer is starting out. A lawyer who graduated from Havard, Yale, or another prominent institution can usually command a higher salary than others.
Size of Firm or Office
Lawyers who work for larger firms tend to be paid more than those who work in small or medium-sized firms.
The biggest firms, those maintaining a stable of hundreds of lawyers, often lure new attorneys fresh out of law school with promises of comfortable salaries. Of course, these new attorneys are expected to put in a considerable amount of work in order to earn them.
By contrast, a lawyer who works for themselves or a smaller firm may have a better work-life balance, but they will also typically have a smaller annual income.
Attorneys With the Highest Average Salaries
Attorneys with specialized knowledge or skills, particularly those occupying niche fields of industry, generally have the highest salaries. According to Indeed.com, these include:
Patent and Intellectual Property (IP) Attorneys
Patent and IP attorneys help inventors and entrepreneurs secure patents to protect their innovations. They also bring legal action against others who infringe on their clients’ patents and intellectual property rights. The national average salary for a patent or IP attorney is around $143,492 per year.
Corporate attorneys provide legal counsel and representation to large businesses and organizations. This kind of work may involve drafting and reviewing contracts, handling employment disputes, and ensuring that clients abide by applicable local, state, federal, and international laws. These attorneys make an average of $137,364 per year.
Tax attorneys help both individuals and businesses comply with local, state, and federal tax laws. They prepare tax returns and advise clients about the tax implications of certain actions. They may also assist their clients in resolving outstanding tax debts owed to the government. The average annual salary for a tax attorney is roughly $134,322.
Cost Isn’t Everything When It Comes to Legal Aid
It would be wrong to assume that the most expensive attorney is always the best choice to handle your legal concerns.
When selecting an attorney, you should consider more factors than just cost, including their background and education, experience, knowledge of their field, track record, and ability to serve your specific interests. Client testimonials can also give you a better sense of whether to work with a certain attorney.
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