What Types of Lawyers Are the Highest Paid?
Ryan Bradley | November 4, 2022 | Personal Injury
There’s a commonly held perception that working as a lawyer comes with a high income. This can be true, but it’s not always the case or even the norm. Certain types of law can lead to a higher income, but many factors impact how much a lawyer is paid.
It’s not surprising to see that certain types of lawyers are paid generously, but some on the list of highest-paid lawyers might come as a surprise.
Highest-Earning Types of Lawyers
It’s often thought that corporate law can bring the highest legal salaries. This is generally true for the private sector, though other areas can be just as high paying. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that of all public legal sectors, the highest average salary rests with lawyers who work for the federal government.
In a recent year, the median annual wage for a lawyer employed by the federal government sat at $152,590. Perhaps surprisingly, this figure sits significantly higher than the annual median for private-sector lawyers, identified as $127,530.
However, these figures only reveal part of the picture — there’s a huge variance between how much a lawyer in the private sector can make. Many factors impact a lawyer’s salary, but a few specific fields of law are linked to higher earning ability.
Corporate lawyers tend to have, by far, the highest earning potential. Many factors impact how much a corporate lawyer makes, including the type of law they practice. Corporate bankruptcy lawyers, for example, possess specialized legal knowledge that can lead to high salaries.
Skilled corporate lawyers can make millions, but that only accounts for a small percentage. While a salary bringing in millions is a possibility on one end of the corporate lawyer pay scale, corporate law positions can also bring salaries that don’t even hit six figures.
Personal injury lawyers can be among the highest earners in the legal field. Most personal injury lawyers work on contingency, taking a percentage of whatever amount they recover for their clients.
Some areas of personal injury law, like wrongful death or catastrophic injury, often bring settlements that reach millions of dollars. Class action lawsuits and mass torts are additional categories of personal injury law, and verdicts for these types of cases can reach billions of dollars.
When a skilled personal injury lawyer excels at maximizing compensation for clients, they reap the benefits through high payouts.
Criminal Defense and Family Law
There’s a huge demand for criminal defense and family law lawyers. For the most part, neither type of law is known for its high earning potential, but there are exceptions.
Criminal defense lawyers who handle high-profile or high-stakes cases can charge high amounts to save clients from legal outcomes like a murder conviction.
Similarly, family law lawyers who focus their practice on areas like high-net-worth divorce can make far more than the average family law practitioner.
Many Factors Impact a Lawyer’s Pay
These categories make up the fields of law in which a lawyer is most likely to make a salary. However, practicing law in one of these fields is no guarantee of high earnings. Many factors impact how much a lawyer can make.
Some of the items that have a strong bearing on a lawyer’s earning ability include:
- Law school attended
- Years of experience
- Track record
- Size of firm
- Negotiation skill
- Litigation skill
- Special skills or certifications
- Distinctions, awards, or honors
- Geographic area
A lawyer with decades of experience and a long track record of impressive results will likely earn more than one who fails to achieve impressive outcomes or has less experience.
One thing seems to be true when it comes to legal salaries: some fields have the potential to bring higher incomes, but personal choices and achievements can be just as important when it comes down to how much money a lawyer can make.
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