As of May 2016, lawyers earn a median annual wage of $118,160, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, this number varies greatly depending on industry and location. For example, the mean average wage for lawyers in securities and commodities is a little over $200,000, while a lawyer working for the state government may earn $85,000.

Wages also vary by state. The mean average for lawyers in California is $158,200, while in Florida, the mean average is $122,020.

Job Outlook for Lawyers

Through 2026, lawyers can expect a 9% job growth rate, which mirrors the average growth rate for all U.S. jobs. To put this in perspective, demand for market research analysts will grow by 32% and demand for fashion designers will decline by 3% during the same period.  

Currently, there are approximately 792,500 lawyers in the United States and it is projected that 74,800 new lawyers will be needed by 2026. 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 a continuous need for lawyers. Government agencies, however, are not usually considered high-wage employers.

So where do lawyers earn the most money? Investopedia pored through U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics information to determine the industries, states and even metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas that pay the highest wages to legal eagles. 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

Scheduled Air Transportation

$214,630

Industrial Machinery Manufacturing

$209,020

Beer, Wine, and Distilled Alcoholic Beverage Merchant Wholesalers 

$205,500

Electronic Component Manufacturing

$196,380

Cable and Other Subscription Programming

$195,270

Though wages are high in industrial machinery manufacturing, competition is steep for the scarce number of legal jobs in the industry. There are approximately 60 lawyers in this entire industry. In comparison, there are 382,730 lawyers in legal services, which is the industry with the highest level of employment. However, in the legal services industry, lawyers only make $145,540 on average.

Highest-Paying States for Lawyers

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

State

Annual Mean Wage

District of Columbia 

$182,810

California

$162,010

New York

$161,260

Massachusettts

$158,760

Delaware

$157,610

States that pay a mean average wage between $126,060 and $144,000 include Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.

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

The next tier of states, where lawyers earn a mean average wage between $113,830 and $128,760, includes Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Nevada and New Hampshire. This is also the mean average wage for lawyers in New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Lawyers earn between $101,620 and $113,760 in Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire and Ohio. The states of Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming also pay lawyers an annual mean wage within this range.

At the other end of the spectrum, lawyers earn the least in these states that pay between $68,260 and $100,900: Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine and Mississippi. In addition, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota and West Virginia also pay within this wage range.

Highest-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Lawyers

Metropolitan Areas

Annual Mean Wage

 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.

 $197,320

 San Rafael, Calif.

$192,220

 Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn.

 $185,560

 San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, Calif.

 $183,890

 Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Tex.

$175,380

New York-Jersey City-White Plains, NY-NJ

$175,340

Washington-Arlington-Alexandria DC-Va.-Md.-W.Va  $173,800

Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA

$170,680

Winston-Salem, NC

$170,310

Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura Calif.

$169,860

Highest-Paying Non-Metropolitan Areas for Lawyers

Non-Metropolitan Areas

Annual Mean Wage

Northern Mountains Region of California 

$137,290

Balance of Alaska

$128,760

Wasatch Back, Utah

$128,340

Southeast Alaska

$125,550

Upper Eastern Shore of Maryland

$120,840

Becoming a Lawyer

Lawyers typically need a bachelor’s degree, followed by a J.D. (juris doctor) degree from an American Bar Association-accredited school. Lawyers must also be licensed by passing the written exam in the state in which 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. However, some lawyers start their own practices. Lawyers may also teach classes at colleges and universities, and some may 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 competition for jobs is stiff, knowing which industries and locations offer the highest wages can help lawyers plan their job search strategically. 

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