Starting Lawyer Salaries Post-Law School

how much do lawyers make out of law school

Are you curious about the starting salary for lawyers after they graduate from law school? If you’re considering a career in law, it’s important to know what kind of income you can expect once you enter the workforce. In this article, we’ll explore the average salaries for lawyers fresh out of law school and the various factors that can influence these salaries.

According to the latest data from PublicLegal’s Raw Data Law School Rankings by Median Salary report for the class of 2017, we can get a glimpse into the salaries of law graduates within ten months of graduation. Keep in mind that this data focuses on positions that require admission to the bar, excluding jobs where a law degree is an advantage but not mandatory.

Key Takeaways:

  • The starting salary for lawyers can vary based on the type of employment and location.
  • The median salary for law graduates varies, with higher salaries typically offered in private practice.
  • Larger law firms tend to have higher salary ranges, while smaller firms and public service jobs may offer lower salaries.
  • Geographic location plays a role in determining salary ranges for lawyers.
  • Consider your career goals and priorities when evaluating job opportunities and salary offers.

Median Salary for Lawyers

The median salary for lawyers straight out of law school can vary depending on the type of employment. According to the NALP’s annual Jobs & JDs report, the median salary for the Class of 2020 graduates with a full-time job lasting at least one year was $75,000. The mean, or average, salary was $102,858. However, the median salary for jobs in private practice was considerably higher at $130,000, with an average of $129,309. On the other hand, public service jobs, such as government positions, public interest organizations, and judicial clerkships, offered lower starting salaries, with medians of $64,000, $55,000, and $60,000, respectively.

When it comes to the average pay for lawyers right out of law school, the numbers can be quite diverse. While private practice tends to offer higher starting salaries, public service positions may have a lower initial pay. Let’s take a closer look at the salary breakdown:

Employment TypeMedian SalaryAverage Salary
Private Practice$130,000$129,309
Government Positions$64,000
Public Interest Organizations$55,000
Judicial Clerkships$60,000

As the table shows, starting salaries in private practice tend to be higher, with a median of $130,000. However, public service jobs, such as government positions, public interest organizations, and judicial clerkships, offer lower starting salaries, with median figures ranging from $55,000 to $64,000. These salary differences reflect the varying demands and expectations of different employment sectors in the legal profession.

Salary Distribution for Lawyers

The earning potential for new lawyers varies significantly, and understanding the salary distribution can provide insights into the average pay for lawyers out of law school. In this section, we will explore the distribution of salaries among new lawyers and highlight the two major peaks in the salary curve.

Large law firms tend to offer high salaries, resulting in a bimodal distribution. One peak in the salary distribution falls at the $190,000 mark, representing the most common salary for big law firms. This peak highlights the earning potential for lawyers in prestigious positions.

The other peak in the salary distribution occurs in the range of $45,000 to $75,000. This range indicates a significant number of jobs that fall below the median salary of $75,000. Many of these positions are in smaller firms or other sectors of the legal industry.

While more than one-third of reported salaries exceed $100,000, over half of the reported salaries are $75,000 or less. This distribution implies that the earning potential for new lawyers is diverse, and the majority of jobs do not fall within the highest salary range typically associated with big law firms.

Understanding the salary distribution is crucial for new lawyers as they consider their career paths and evaluate potential job opportunities. It’s important to remember that the salary range varies depending on factors such as the type of employment, geographical location, and the size of the law firm.

Next, we will explore the employment status of law school graduates and provide insights into the different types of employers and their respective salary information.

Employment Status of Law School Graduates

After completing law school, the ultimate goal for graduates is to secure employment in the legal field. The employment statistics for law school graduates from the classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022 indicate favorable outcomes for the majority of graduates. Here’s a breakdown of the employment status:

  • 97% to 99% of graduates in known employment status were employed.
  • The percentage of graduates employed in positions that require bar passage ranged from 94.9% to 97.8%.
  • A small percentage of graduates chose to pursue employment outside the legal field or continued their education in graduate degree programs.
  • The number of unemployed graduates actively seeking employment ranged from 0.7% to 1.9%.

These figures reflect the success of law school graduates in finding employment opportunities after completing their legal education. It showcases the demand for legal professionals and the value placed on their skills and expertise in various sectors.

Law School Graduate Salary

As law school graduates enter the workforce, one of their primary concerns is the level of compensation they can expect. The law profession offers a wide range of salary possibilities depending on various factors such as type of employment, location, and experience.

To gain a better understanding of the salary expectations for entry-level lawyers, let’s examine the median and average salary figures for different employment types:

Employment TypeMedian SalaryAverage Salary
Law Firms$215,000$190,539
Judicial Clerkships$67,382$68,386
Government$55,000 to $72,000N/A
Public Interest Organizations$55,000 to $72,000N/A

The salary data reflects the average pay for entry-level lawyers in different employment types. While law firms tend to offer higher median and average salaries, judicial clerkships and positions in government or public interest organizations may have lower starting salaries. It’s important to consider factors such as career prospects, work-life balance, and personal goals in addition to salary when deciding on the right path after law school.

Employment by Employer Type and Location

The employment of law school graduates varies across different employer types and geographical locations. When it comes to the type of employer, law firms are the primary source of employment for the majority of graduates, accounting for approximately 80% to 84.5% of all placements. Within law firms, it is the larger firms with 500+ attorneys that employ the highest percentage of graduates.

Aside from law firms, there are other common employment sectors for law school graduates. These include government positions, public interest organizations, and judicial clerkships, which offer alternative career paths for those looking beyond the traditional law firm route.

When considering geographical location, certain regions consistently have a higher percentage of employed law school graduates. The Mid-Atlantic region, comprising New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, stands at the top with the highest employment rates. The Pacific region, encompassing states such as Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington, follows closely behind. Lastly, the South Atlantic region, which includes states such as Washington, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, also shows a significant presence of employed law school graduates.

Employment by Employer Type

Employer TypePercentage of Graduates Employed
Law Firms80% – 84.5%
GovernmentVarying percentages
Public Interest OrganizationsVarying percentages
Judicial ClerkshipsVarying percentages

Employment by Geographic Location

Geographic RegionPercentage of Employed Graduates
Mid-Atlantic (NJ, NY, PA)High
Pacific (AK, CA, HI, OR, WA)High
South Atlantic (DC, DE, FL, GA, MD, NC, SC, VA, WV)High

Salary Information for Different Employment Types

The salaries for employed law school graduates vary depending on the type of employment. In general, law firm salaries have the highest median and average figures. Judicial clerkships, government and public interest positions, as well as business and academia sectors, also offer starting salaries for lawyers after law school, albeit at lower ranges.

 Median SalaryAverage Salary
Law Firms$215,000$190,539
Judicial Clerkships$67,382$68,386
Government Positions$55,000 – $72,000N/A
Public Interest Organizations$55,000 – $72,000N/A

As shown in the table above, law firms offer the highest salaries, with a median of $215,000 and an average of $190,539 for employed graduates. On the other hand, judicial clerkships have lower salaries, with a median of $67,382 and an average of $68,386. Government positions and public interest organizations offer starting salaries ranging from $55,000 to $72,000, but salary data for business and academia sectors is not available for the surveyed classes.

It’s important to note that salary ranges can vary based on factors such as geographical location, firm size, and experience. Law school graduates should carefully consider their personal career goals and priorities when evaluating employment opportunities and salary offers after completing their education.


When it comes to starting salaries for lawyers after graduation, there is a wide range of variability. Various factors, including employment type, geographic location, and the size of the law firm, play a significant role in determining a lawyer’s income. Larger law firms tend to offer higher salaries, but there is also a broader distribution of salaries among smaller firms and other sectors such as government and public interest organizations.

For law school graduates, it is crucial to consider their personal career goals and priorities when evaluating job opportunities and salary offers. While a big paycheck may be enticing, it’s important to weigh other factors such as work-life balance, job satisfaction, and long-term growth potential. A higher starting salary may not always guarantee career fulfillment.

Moreover, the salary landscape for lawyers evolves over time, and income can vary as lawyers gain experience and establish themselves in the field. Graduates should also keep in mind that their starting salary is not a definitive indicator of their future earning potential. Continued professional growth, specialized expertise, and building a strong network can significantly impact a lawyer’s income trajectory throughout their career.