Using the most recent figures available as of Oct. 2018, lawyers earned a median annual wage of $119,2500, 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 was $168,200, while in Florida the mean average was $127,730.

Job Outlook for Lawyers

Through 2026, lawyers can expect an 8% 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 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? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 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.


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, 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 



$189,560



California



$168,200



New York



$165,260



Massachusetts



$157,450



Connecticut



$152,540


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.

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

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. 

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 bottom of the spectrum, lawyers make the least in these states earning between $68,260 and $100,900 annually: Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, and West Virginia.

Highest-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Lawyers


Metropolitan Areas



Annual Mean Wage



 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California



 $198,100



 San Francisco-Redwood City, California



$189,660



 Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, California



 $189,150



 Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut



 $182,160



 San Rafael, California



$180,530



New York-Jersey City-White Plains, New York/New Jersey



$179,470



Washington DC-Arlington-Alexandria DC, Maryland/Virginia


$173,800

Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Massachusetts


$177,990

Houston-The Woods-Sugar Land, Texas


$174,870

Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, California



$174,420


Highest-Paying Non-Metropolitan Areas for Lawyers


Non-Metropolitan Areas



Annual Mean Wage



Los Alamos County, New Mexico 


$165,040

Balance of Alaska


$131,990

Wasatch Back, Utah


$129,890

South Nevada


$126,680

Southeast Alaska


$124,410

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