Lawyers earned a median annual wage of $120,910 in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, this number varies greatly depending on sector and location. For example, the median wage for lawyers working with the federal government was $145,160, while a lawyer working for the state government may earn $86,900. Wages also vary by state. The mean salary for lawyers in the District of Columbia was $192,530 per year, which is the state with the highest pay for lawyers.

Key Takeaways

  • The median wage for lawyers in 2018 was $120,910.
  • Lawyers typically need a bachelor’s degree and a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from an American Bar Association–accredited school. 
  • Lawyers also need to be licensed, which requires passing the written exam in the state where they plan to practice.
  • The District of Columbia pays lawyers the most—typically $192,530 per year—followed by California and New York.
  • Lawyers in the cable and other subscription programming industry make the most, being paid $234,310 per year. 

Job Outlook for Lawyers

Between 2018 and 2028, the jobs growth rate for lawyers is expected to be 6%, which is slightly better than 5% growth rate for all occupations in U.S.

As of 2018, there were approximately 823,900 lawyers in the U.S. and it is projected that 50,100 new lawyers will be needed by 2028. However, competition for available jobs will be steep since the supply of law school graduates exceeds the number of available jobs.

There is always a demand for legal services and law firms are the largest employers of lawyers. However, to save expenses, firms are beginning to assign more work to legal assistants, paralegals, and overseas providers. For those who want to work in the public sector, state and federal government agencies have an ongoing need for lawyers. Government agencies, however, are not usually considered high-wage employers.

Highest-Paying Industries for Lawyers

So where do lawyers earn the most money? Below are the industries, states, and metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas that pay the highest wages to attorneys. Wages will vary depending on the lawyer’s level of experience and also the size of the company.

Highest-Paying Industries for Lawyers
 

Industry

 

Annual Mean Wage

Cable and Other Subscription Programming

 

$234,310

Pipeline Transportation of Crude Oil  

$215,700

Motor Vehicle Manufacturing

 

$205,610

Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing

 

$204,710

Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing

 

$200,830

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Though wages are high in cable and other subscription programming, competition is steep for the scarce number of legal jobs in the industry. There are roughly 110 lawyers in this entire industry. In comparison, there are nearly 400,000 lawyers in legal services, the sector with the highest level of employment. However, annual mean wages for these lawyers is just $150,200 per year.

Highest-Paying States for Lawyers

Lawyers also earn more or less than the national mean wage depending on the state in which they work. Below are the top-paying states for lawyers.

Highest-Paying States for Lawyers
 

State

 

Annual Mean Wage

 

District of Columbia 

 

$192,530

 

California 

 

$171,550

 

New York  

 

$167,110

 

Massachusetts

 

$165,610

 

Connecticut

 

$153,640

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The District of Columbia, California, and New York are also three of the five locales that employ the most lawyers, along with Florida and Texas.

At the bottom of the spectrum, lawyers make the least in these states earning between $74,690 and $107,120 annually: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Maine, West Virginia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and New Mexico.

Highest-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Lawyers

Highest-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Lawyers
 

Metropolitan Areas

 

Annual Mean Wage

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA

 

 $207,950

San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA

 

$183,070

Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

 

 $179,980

 

 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA

 

 $176,020

 

 Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX

 

$175,380

Highest-Paying Non-Metropolitan Areas for Lawyers

Highest-Paying Non-Metropolitan Areas for Lawyers
 

Non-Metropolitan Areas

 

Annual Mean Wage

 

North Valley-Northern Mountains Region of California 

$159,320

West Texas Region of Texas

$153,490

Central New Hampshire

$130,300

Arizona nonmetropolitan area

$127,210

Alaska nonmetropolitan area
 
$126,940

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Becoming a Lawyer

Lawyers typically need a bachelor’s degree, followed by a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from an American Bar Association–accredited school. Lawyers must also be licensed by passing the written exam in the state where they plan to practice. Lawyers who work for law firms usually start their careers as associates and after several years of experience, they may become partners.

Some lawyers start their own practices while others work as in-house counsel for large corporations. Lawyers may also teach classes at colleges and universities and some become judges.

Successful lawyers possess certain core traits and qualities. For example, they need excellent communication skills since they are required to speak and write clearly and persuasively. Lawyers should also be analytical, with strong research and problem-solving skills. They often need to sort through mountains of information to quickly determine the facts and objectively determine the best course of action for their client. 

The Bottom Line

While the competition for jobs is stiff, knowing which industries and locations offer the highest wages can help lawyers plan their job search strategically.