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Average Lawyer Salary: How Much Does a Lawyer Make?

A career in law sometimes can lead to a high salary. This article explains how much you might be able to make practicing law.

If you're planning for a career in law, you can generally expect to earn a good salary. According to Salary.com, the average annual salary for a lawyer is $160,096, but depending on your field, you could earn much more.

But while many lawyers easily rake in six figures, the cost of becoming one is steep. Here's what you need to know about the average lawyer salary and whether it's enough to justify paying for law school.

How much do lawyers make?

Becoming a lawyer can be a long and grueling process, but the career can be rewarding in more ways than one. But how much do lawyers make? According to Salary.com, the average annual salary can range from $82,897 to $237,296, depending on your experience and skill level. When you're just starting out, the average is $97,233 for an entry-level lawyer position.

But those averages don't tell the whole story. Your salary will ultimately depend on the field of law you've chosen, where you live and other factors.

For example, lawyers who work in public-interest positions tend to earn less than those who work for private interests. Here's a summary of average salaries for various fields:

  • Legal services attorney: $48,000
  • Public interest organizations: $50,300
  • Local prosecuting attorneys: $56,200
  • Public defenders: $58,300
  • Environmental lawyer: $66,617
  • Family lawyer: $76,514
  • Immigration lawyer: $79,502
  • Patent lawyer: $94,981
  • Corporate lawyer: $113,462

So do lawyers make good money? Yes and no. It really depends on which field of law you want to specialize in, your expertise and your experience in the long term.

Regardless of your career path, understanding what to expect salary-wise can help you determine whether the cost of law school is worth it and how to manage student debt after you graduate.

Is law school right for you?

Even if you're expecting to earn a high salary as a lawyer, you'll want to run the numbers on the cost of law school to determine if it's the right move for you.

According to U.S. News & World Report, the annual cost of attending law school will depend on the type of school you attend:

  • Public, in-state: $29,074 (ranges from $13,438 to $65,500).
  • Public, out of state: $42,143 (ranges from $22,082 to $68,500).
  • Private: $51,268 (ranges from $26,698 to $74,995).

In addition to annual tuition and fees, you'll also need to consider the cost of supplies, textbooks, room and board and other living expenses.

The good news is that if you have impressive academic credentials, many private law schools offer significant tuition discounts to help.

Of course, while the numbers are important, so is what you ultimately want. Being a lawyer can be an incredibly rewarding experience, and if you're passionate about law and can't imagine pursuing any other career path, the numbers may not matter as much.

Also, keep in mind that if you plan to work in a public-interest position — say, as a public defender or in the military — you may qualify for federal student loan forgiveness programs and also student loan repayment assistance programs. 

How to pay for law school

If you're looking forward to a lucrative career as a lawyer, but you're concerned about paying for law school, here are some potential options to consider:

Opt for a less expensive school

Having a prestigious law school on your resume can make a difference, but that doesn't mean you can't get a valuable education from a less expensive school. And, ultimately, your performance as a student and in your career will give you a bigger advantage over the course of your career than the name of the school on your diploma.

Seek financial assistance

Once you've received your acceptance letters, contact the various schools and ask about financial aid options. While grants and scholarships are less plentiful for graduate students, they are available. You may also consider joining the military to take advantage of tuition assistance programs.

Finally, look for potential grants and scholarships from private organizations. Websites like Scholarships.com and Fastweb have databases with millions of opportunities that you can search to find financial aid.

Apply for student loans

It's not ideal to have to borrow money to get through school, but for most lawyers, it's necessary. According to EducationData.org, nearly three-quarters of law school graduates leave school with an average of $118,400 in student loan debt.

For many students, it makes sense to start with federal student loans. That's especially the case if you plan to work in public service because loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs typically only apply to federal student loans. It's also worth considering if you believe you might need to take advantage of the federal income-driven repayment plans.

However, there are limits to how much you can borrow in Direct Unsubsidized Loans and the Direct PLUS Loan program carries higher interest rates and loan fees.

If you've reached your allotment of Direct Unsubsidized Loans and don't anticipate needing any federal loan benefits, private student loans may be the best option for you. With Juno graduate loans, we'll work with you by negotiating with potential lenders to help you get the lowest interest rate possible on your loans.

And if you decide to get federal student loans just to be safe, then decide later that you don't need the benefits, Juno also offers help with student loan refinancing.

The bottom line

If you're thinking about a career in law, it's important to know what you're getting yourself into, not only in terms of what you'll earn but also how much it's going to cost you to establish your career.

As you do your research, take your time to consider both the monetary side and also the other reasons why you want to become a lawyer. Then make a plan for how you want to pay for law school, trying to minimize how much you need to borrow along the way.

Ben Luthi

Written By

Ben Luthi

Ben Luthi is a personal finance and travel writer based in Salt Lake City, UT. He loves helping people better understand their finances. When he's not traveling, Ben enjoys spending time with his kids, hiking, and watching films. His work has been featured in U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times, MarketWatch, Fox Business, and many other publications.


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