How Much Do Lawyers Really Make?

by : Mark Warner

We see it on television all the time; high priced lawyers presiding over important cases and raking in the money left and right. The reality, however, is often quite different.

Yes, there is quite a lot of earning potential being a lawyer, but it takes years of practice and seasoning before you can really cash in on your degree. Let's take a look at exactly how much you can expect to make with your law degree.

If your career path is leading you to join a private law firm directly out of college, your salary will vary wildly depending on where you plan to settle down. The career path of a lawyer isn't that different than the career path of a journalist: start somewhere small, build a name and work your way up. If you are planning on starting out in a town with a population less than 150,000-200,000, you can expect to make less than $50,000 a year for the first few years.

If you feel that you have enough credentials or enough connections to get a job in a mid-sized market like San Antonio or Minneapolis, your salary can jump to $70,000 to $100,000. Of course, if you're at the head of your class and you are ready to take on the world right out of the gate, you can easily make $150,000-$200,000 a year in places like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City.

While these numbers sound rosy, you need to take into consideration the fact that every year, thousands of people graduate with their law degrees and the competition for these jobs, even the low paying ones in the smaller towns, is extreme. Refine your resume and get your things in order before you even try to apply.

According to government statistics released only a few years ago, the salary you earn can vary greatly on what kind of law you practice and where you choose to practice it.

For example, the median earnings of lawyers who worked directly for a company like Microsoft made approximately $131,000 a year. If you are employed by the federal government as a lawyer, you can expect to make just under $100,000 a year.

If you provide general legal services or are self employed as a lawyer, your income drops to $93,000 a year. Your salary will drop even further if you work for local or state government organizations. They tend to make around $67,000 a year. If you find yourself working for a university or college, your income five years out of school drops to $60,000 a year.

As you can see, your fortunes are directly influenced by where you choose to practice law once you leave school. Of course, any out of work law school grad will be quick to tell you that any and all of these jobs beats no job at all, but the promise of riches that many law students think is a right tend to be something they accomplish a decade down the road.