There is a wide range in the salaries different attorneys make. Most attorneys choose to specialize in particular areas of law, much the way doctors specialize in different areas of medicine. Occasionally, lawyers will practice law in more than one area of the law. But you generally won’t see an Atlanta personal injury lawyer handling a real estate transaction, or an estate planning attorney trying to close a big corporate merger.
Each specialty comes with a different earning potential. You might wonder which area of law has the highest paid lawyers. It’s not as straightforward as it may seem.
Things That Affect A Lawyer’s Salary
Even within specialties, attorneys can make different amounts of money.
The income of an attorney depends on numerous factors, including:
- Geographic region—Attorneys who practice in major metropolitan areas tend to make more money than those practicing in small towns and rural communities.
- Size of the law firm—Some lawyers never join a firm and instead go into solo practice. While this allows the most personal freedom, it often results in lower pay. Other attorneys choose to work for big law firms, some of which may employ hundreds of attorneys around the country or the globe.
- Skill and experience—Like any career, an attorney’s income will depend on their skillset and experience. No matter how talented, a first-year associate will not make a comparable salary to a partner in a large firm.
- Education—Not all law schools are created equally, and the potential for higher earnings comes with more prestigious schools.
These factors and more have a substantial impact on the earning potential of each attorney.
Types Of Lawyers That Make The Most Money
Different specialties have different median incomes. There’s a wide range of data collected for different types of lawyers and salaries. Keep in mind that the variables noted above will make a difference in each case.
Some of the highest-paid lawyers are:
Medical Lawyers – Average $138,431
Medical lawyers make one of the highest median wages in the legal field. The job of a medical attorney will vary depending on the entity for which they work. Many attorneys in this field specialize in representing hospitals and medical corporations. Others handle medical malpractice claims or personal injuries.
Intellectual Property Attorneys – Average $128,913
Intellectual property lawyers specialize in patents, trademarks, and copyrights. The high earning potential in this field arises because of the explosive growth of intellectual property. These attorneys practice in a fast-paced field, requiring them to keep up with quickly evolving laws and procedures. They work in large firms or in-house for big tech and big pharma, on the frontlines of protecting intellectual property from infringement.
Trial Attorneys – Average $97,158
Trial attorneys must have an excellent grasp of procedural law and have a responsibility to stay abreast of trends and changes in an ever-evolving field. Excellent oral communication skills are a must for success, and the art of persuasive speaking cannot be overstated.
Trial lawyers need an excellent memory and the ability to think on their feet. Trials move quickly and are often filled with the unexpected. Strong knowledge of statutory law and the ability to use precedents to guide the outcome of their cases is crucial as well.
Tax Attorneys – Average $101,204
Attorneys specializing in tax law usually represent organizations when dealing with federal, state, and local taxing agencies. Corporations and large companies pay enormous amounts for attorneys skilled in tax laws to protect their assets and create a tax savings plan.
The tax laws in the United States are incredibly complex, and tax lawyers must stay on top of changes that can potentially impact their clients. Their day to day responsibilities are compounded by the need to continuously study the changing structure of tax law requiring constant research and continuing education.
Corporate Lawyers – $116,361
Corporate lawyers provide clients with counsel on business transactions, acquisitions and mergers, the sale of businesses, and legal advice on running a corporation. Contract preparation and review is one hallmark of a corporate lawyer, ensuring that the contract’s language is favorable to their client.
Corporate attorneys also assist in sourcing venture capital, creating new corporations, and advising clients on the buying and selling of corporate assets. Corporate attorneys wear many different hats over the course of their careers.
Other highly-paid legal specialties include bankruptcy, probate, and personal injury law. The bottom line is that a lawyer’s income depends on many different factors, including the hours they put in and the choices they make in pursuing their career goals.
Legal Careers That Focus on More Than a Paycheck
Each attorney has his or her own motivation for choosing the practice of law for a career. Many lawyers choose the legal field because of a genuine desire to help others. Other attorneys practice law because they genuinely want to serve justice.
These attorneys can be found in every specialty but often work in government roles such as district attorneys or public defenders. Or, they may do private practice criminal defense, family law, or public policy work. Attorneys who are passionate about serving the community also frequently work for non-profits and government entities focusing on underserved populations.