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Realistically, what do Lawyers make?

You’ve heard the stories about the “good ol days,” when newly minted J.D.s–even those who didn’t finish in the top 10 percent of their classes–could command a $160,000 salary. More recently, you’ve probably heard the rumors about plummeting starting salaries for new lawyers who are lucky enough to find jobs–even with Big Law firms.

So the question is this: Realistically, what do lawyers make these days? As with everything in the profession, the answer is this: It depends.

Truth is, the “good ol days” never truly existed, at least not everywhere.

While it’s true that graduates of top-ranked law schools were frequently hired by large law firms at salaries of $160,000 or more, the vast majority of new lawyers across the country started at wages that were less than half of that.

And today, it’s true that the median starting salary for new lawyers has fallen steadily over the past few years ($63,000 for 2010 graduates compared to $72,000 for 2009 graduates) . However, what you make will depend on several factors, including what type of law your practice, what type of firm you’re with and where your firm is located.

It’s no secret that public interest lawyers make significantly less money than intellectual property law attorneys or a litigator at a large law firm. The median starting salary for a public interest attorney is somewhere in the range of $45,000, while a litigator in Big Law starts at a salary around $140,000 (although about 500 new grads in New York, D.C. and L.A. got the magic $160,000 salary last year, according to the American Bar Association).

Of course the actual amount will vary depending on the size of your firm. You can hang out a shingle and scrape by like most other new grads who go solo, earning about $50,000 a year in mid- to large-markets. And that’s if you’re in a part of the country that has a critical mass of people in need of legal services. Start your own firm in a rural area of the country and that number drops.

Confused yet? You should be. The profession convoluted right now. Firms are hiring, some aren’t. There’s a drastic need for public interest lawyers, but it can be hard to make ends meet on their starting salaries. And Big Law? Well, it still pays to go to a large firm, just not as much as it used to.



About the Author

Sumita Dalal is the Founder and CEO of FindMyLawTutor, the largest and most trusted website and online portal that connects law students with law tutors for success in law school. Whether preparing for the LSAT, are currently a law student or are studying for the bar exam, FindMyLawTutor makes finding a law tutor fast and easy.

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