The Highest Paying Legal Jobs
Are you in law school and wondering what kinds of legal specialties make the most -- or least -- money? This shouldn’t be the deciding factor when it comes to what type of law you decide to practice, but it is understandably a consideration for many law students.
The legal industry offers hundreds of career options from court messenger to trial lawyer. Salaries can range from minimum wage to nine-digit incomes, depending on geographic location, market demand, experience level, practice environment and employer size -- and yes, the job itself. These are some of the most highly compensated legal jobs.
Trial lawyers are among the highest paid legal professionals in the world. Thousands practice across the globe, but litigators who handle high-dollar, high-profile and high-stakes cases are the most highly compensated. Not all lawyers rake in high incomes, however. Many public interest lawyers and solo practitioners earn modest salaries. The median annual salary for all lawyers was $133,470 in 2014, up from $110,590 in 2008.
Intellectual Property Lawyers
Intellectual property laws protect ideas: patents, copyrights, trademarks and other profitable concepts. This is a fast-growing area of law as technology continues to advance, and it is also statistically among the most lucrative. The median pay is nearly $143,000 as of 2016, while lawyers on the high end can earn as much as $270,000 a year.
Tax attorneys work with both individuals and businesses to solve tax issues. They help with estate planning, and even with suing the Internal Revenue Service. They are often essential consultants when someone is starting a business or when contracts must be drafted. Although this type of work isn’t as flashy as that of trial lawyers, tax attorneys still bring in decent paychecks. The median pay is about $99,000 as of 2016, while some make as much as $189,000 each year.
Employment and Labor Attorneys
Employment and labor attorneys work to ensure that relationships between employers and employees stay balanced and fair. They represent either the employers and management or the employees. They are compensated well. The median pay for an employment lawyer is about $82,000 as of 2016, with some attorneys earning as much as $90,000 a year or more.
Real Estate Attorneys
Real estate attorneys review offers and contracts and make sure that buyers get fair deals. They also work with sellers to make sure everything is fair on that end. Although real estate attorneys make decent salaries -- the median is $79,000 and these lawyers can earn as much as $149,000 a year -- nearly one in four real estate attorneys are not awarded benefits.
Chief Legal Officers
Chief legal officers, also known as general counsels, head the law departments of corporations. Generally, the larger the corporation, the greater the general counsel's salary. Earnings for CLO's heading large, multi-national corporations can reach seven figures. In addition to base salaries, chief legal officers also earn bonuses, stock options and other perks that can considerably sweeten their compensation packages.
Women are rising in the CLO pay ranks, according to the 2011 General Counsel Compensation Survey. For the first time in the history of the survey, a woman -- the top legal officer at tobacco giant Altria Group, Inc. -- topped the survey that year, taking home $6.5 million in total cash compensation.
Judges preside over court proceedings in federal, state and local courts. Judges and magistrates earn a median annual salary of $156,250 as of 2016, with a range from $153,265 to $174,860. The highest-paid judgeships are those within the federal court system, while local judges and magistrates earn the least. In addition to generous salaries, most judges enjoy healthy benefits, expense accounts and contributions to retirement plans made on their behalf, increasing the size of their compensation packages.
Members of Congress
Do you like the idea of working in the business of changing laws for the betterment of an entire state or country? Maybe a career in politics is for you. Although a law degree isn’t technically a requirement to get into politics, it can certainly help. Members of Congress bring home $174,000 per year and some higher positions, such as Majority Party Leader or Speaker of the House, bring in $194,000 each year.
Law School Professor
Law school professors teach courses in law, perform research and publish scholarly works in their fields of expertise. Salaries vary by region and by the school. According to the Society of American Law Teachers' 2009-2010 Salary Survey, salaries for full professors ranged from $113,691 to $242,500 that year. This list of public law school faculty salaries reveals that some professor salaries reach beyond $300,000, while salaries for law school deans top out at around $450,000.
Securing a position as a law school professor is competitive, however. Qualifications for top candidates include a law degree from a top law school, law review, high-class standing, judicial clerkship experience, law practice experience and publication credits in scholarly journals.
Litigation Support Director
As technology changes the face of law practices, legal professionals who are also tech-savvy are climbing the salary ladder. Legal professionals in litigation support roles earn an average salary of $70,882 in 2016, while litigation support directors and managers can command salaries much higher. Top-earners usually possess law degrees or advanced degrees in technology, business or finance.
Litigation support directors manage firm-wide litigation support activities, e-discovery initiatives, and technology resources. As the demand for litigation support spirals upward and experienced litigation support personnel remain scarce, litigation support salaries are predicted to climb.
Law Firm Administrator
Law firm administrators or chief managing officers oversee the business and administrative aspects of running a law firm. Their duties cover the non-legal aspects of law practice, such as financial management and reporting, business development, human resources, facilities management, technology, marketing and practice management.
Law firm administrators in large firms rake in the highest earnings. A 2011 survey of law firm CMO salaries in three major cities showed that the average was $386,294 at that time and the median salary was $375,000. CMO salaries in New York can reach as high as $750,000, while law firm administrator salaries in Washington, DC, soar to $650,000.
Law firm administrators typically work fewer hours than most big firm lawyers and CMO positions require less education -- most have only a bachelor's degree. This can be a great career option for those seeking a lucrative job in the legal industry.