What is the Average Starting Salary for Lawyers by Practice Area?

Brandi Glass
5 min read
Group of lawyers

Immigration, intellectual property, criminal defense, real estate, personal injury: picking a practice area to specialize in can be tough for new and trainee lawyers.

There are many factors to consider when becoming a lawyer, including what you’re most passionate about, the long-term career prospects and potential for work-life balance. There’s no denying that the salary can also make a difference, especially if you’re torn between two practice areas.

Keep reading as we break down the average starting salary for lawyers in the US, along with how it varies by practice area. We’ll also take a look at how much you can expect to earn once you’re more established in your field.

What is the Average Starting Salary for Lawyers?

Most law firms don’t publish detailed information about their employees’ salaries, which can make it hard to know what you should expect to earn as a newly qualified lawyer.

Fortunately, several websites collect anonymous salary reports and use this information to calculate average wages for different industries. Company review site Glassdoor is one of them. It calculates that the average median starting salary for lawyers is $63,635 in the US, including bonuses. The majority of newly qualified lawyers will earn between $37,000 and $109,000 annually.

Meanwhile, Glassdoor’s data shows that attorneys earn a median annual salary of $97,674 in their first year of work. Most first-year attorneys earn between $60,000 and $160,000.

How Does the Average Starting Salary for Lawyers Compare to the National Average?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), lawyers in the US earn an average of $127,990. This includes new recruits and veteran lawyers alike.

90% of lawyers in the US have a salary higher than $61,400 a year, while the top 10% earn over $208,000. And in the federal government, lawyers’ wages averaged $152,590 a year.

With an average entry-level salary of $63,635, new recruits are some of the lowest-paid lawyers in the country. However, there’s plenty of room for wage growth over the course of your career.

Average Starting Salaries for Lawyers by Practice Area

Your choice of practice area will dramatically affect the starting salary offers you can expect to receive. There’s an, unfortunately, limited amount of information about starting salaries by practice area. However, there is data about median salaries by practice area. These can give valuable insights into how much you can expect to earn at all stages of your career. Let’s take a closer look at the data:

Bankruptcy Lawyer

Bankruptcy lawyers earn an average of $113,000 a year, which is a little under the industry median wage of $127,990. As a newly licensed lawyer, you should aim to earn the average starting salary of $63,635. However, you may find you have to accept a salary offer slightly below this figure in your first year.

Civil Rights Lawyer

On average, civil rights lawyers earn just $69,000 a year, making it one of the lowest-paid practice fields. New recruits should also expect a low starting salary that’s somewhere between $37,000 and $63,635. Although the pay is lower, being a civil rights lawyer can be incredibly satisfying as you work to protect minorities and women from discrimination.

Corporate Lawyer

The average salary for corporate lawyers is $98,244 a year. While it’s a slightly below-average rate for lawyers, it’s still a significantly higher wage than many other practice fields. When it comes to average starting salaries, you can likely expect to receive offers around the 25th percentile, or $48,000.

Criminal Defense Lawyer

Criminal defense lawyers earn $78,500 on average, meaning their wages fall into the lower half of lawyer salaries. New recruits should bear in mind that their earnings are likely to be lower than the industry average starting salary of $63,635.

Health Care Lawyer

Health care lawyers earn an above-average median salary of $146,590. New recruits are also likely to be able to negotiate an entry-level wage that’s higher than average. Aim to earn more than the median starting salary of $63,635.

Intellectual Property Lawyer

The average annual salary for intellectual property lawyers is $155,037, which is significantly above the industry-wide average of $127,990. As such, you should expect an above-average entry-level salary that falls between $63,635 and $109,000. On top of this, you’ll get the satisfaction of helping people maintain the rights to their creative and intellectual property.

Immigration Lawyer

Immigration lawyers earn an average wage of $62,250, which makes them some of the lowest-paid lawyers in the US. This means newly qualified lawyers should expect a starting salary at the bottom end of the $37,000 – $109,000 scale.

Immigration lawyers might have lower salaries, but many lawyers find it a fulfilling role. They know that they’re helping unite people with their families, escape unsafe countries and successfully start a new life.

Real Estate Lawyer

On average, real estate lawyers earn $118,00 a year. This is very close to the national average. Entry-level real estate lawyers are likely to also earn close to the median starting salary of $63,635 a year.

While real estate lawyers could earn more in other practice fields, they also get to help people find new homes. Working as a real estate lawyer can be a rewarding career, both financially and emotionally.

Personal Injury Lawyer

Personal injury lawyers earn an average of $73,000 a year. This is below average for lawyers, but still higher than some other practice areas. Entry-level personal injury lawyers should also expect to earn slightly below the average of $63,635, although their salary is unlikely to be as low as $37,000.

Receive Attractive Salary Offers with a Professional Resume

No matter what practice area you opt for, a well-crafted resume will help you get invited to interviews and negotiate a higher starting salary.

Your resume should be adapted to the role and law firm in question, as well as to your professional background. It needs to draw attention to your strong points, so that time-pressed recruiters can quickly get a picture of who you are and why they should call you for an interview.

Plus, it should be well laid out and easy to read, by humans and computer systems alike. You don’t want your resume to be discarded because the file format isn’t machine-readable.

Our lawyer resume templates will help you build an eye-catching resume in minutes. You can pick from a range of styles, all of which are machine-readable and recruiter-approved. Plus, our resume builder will suggest the ideal structure and phrasing based on your experience level and skills.

Build your resume now so you can negotiate job offers with confidence.