What Is the Average Salary for an Entry-Level Attorney?

You might think becoming an attorney is your ticket to a large paycheck. Although making a very good salary is certainly possible, you aren't guaranteed a large salary as an entry-level attorney, especially since average pay varies by location, employer and more. Salaries for attorneys do increase, though, with experience. Schools offering Juris Doctor degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Attorney Salaries

Salaries for attorneys vary greatly, depending on experience and where they work. When considering entry-level salaries, there are a variety of factors to consider.

Important Facts About Attorneys

Degree Required Juris Doctor
Work Environment Offices, legal firms, courtrooms, client meetings
Licensure All states require attorneys to be licensed
Job Outlook (2012-2022) 10% for all attorneys

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Average Entry-Level Attorney Salaries

The entry-level salary for an attorney, or lawyer, tends to vary. Most entry-level respondents to a PayScale.com salary survey showed earnings of $38,599 - $82,445 in total annual pay as of September 2015. You'll probably face competition for these jobs, no matter what the salary; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that large amounts of law school graduates enter the job market each year (www.bls.gov).

Finding a True Average

According to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), average salary data for entry-level lawyers tends to be skewed (www.nalp.org). This is because most law firms pay either far higher or far lower salaries than what the average works out to be. In order to show a more accurate picture of entry-level salaries, NALP gives an adjusted mean salary for entry-level lawyers in its yearly salary report. This adjusted mean salary was $80,800 for law school graduates of 2012.

Salary Change with Experience

After you've obtained some experience in the legal field, you should be eligible for a higher salary. The BLS shows that lawyers in general earned a median salary of $114,970 as of May 2014. An example of pay increases with growing experience can be seen in salaries for attorneys with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). In January 2015, the DOJ listed a starting salary range for attorneys with less than one year of experience in the $51,298-$53,008 range (www.justice.gov).

Variables that Affect Pay

Several variables will affect your pay as a beginning lawyer, including the size of your employer, the location, type of law you practice, sector you work in and more. As a lawyer who owns his or her own practice, you would probably make less money than your counterparts who work for existing law firms. In fact, according to the BLS, lawyers who start their own law firms might need to perform another job to create income until their practice becomes profitable.

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