Realistic Salary Expectations for Lawyers

Law firm salary expectationsMany lawyers come out of law school with lofty expectations about starting salary.  For all of their hard work and efforts in law school, many new lawyers think that their life will be immediately profitable. Sometimes, law school career services data can lead them to believe this will be the case.  And, sometimes, the overall stigma of being a lawyer may have been glamorized to them. Even if they do not think they will be immediately doing well, they might not realize how it is for many new lawyers.  To their chagrin, some new lawyers struggle just to make their student loan payments, maintain housing, make the automobile payments, etc., out of the gates. They must maintain realistic salary expectations.

Why is that case?  According to some data from the National Association of Legal Professionals and another recent article, the average salary of a new lawyer was in the $77,333 to $84,111 range.  On a cursory level, this is not a bad starting salary.

The problem is not many new lawyers make this salary.  Instead, a small number of lawyers make a large salary of around $160,000.  Far more end up making a salary from $45,000 to $65,000 while making large student loan payments, and paying other bills at the same time.

When added together, the mean ends up being in the range of  $77,333 to $84,111, but the data shows that few attorneys actually make that.  So, while some lawyers may come out of law school making a hefty salary, most lawyers struggle out of the gates because they do not have realistic salary expectations.

When many new lawyers realize this, they can become disappointed.  They might experience regret their career choice.  Or, worse yet for law firms, some may become disappointed with their law firm employer.  They might wonder why the law firm they work for is not paying at the mean, or even at the top salary, not understanding that this mean or top salary is a rarity.

The truth of the matter is that for most law firms, new attorneys are not profitable for the law firm out of the gates.  These new lawyers are generally still learning, inefficient, and are figuratively cutting their teeth.  Most law firms, especially smaller law firms, just cannot afford to pay the top salary, or even the mean, when considering all the financial circumstances.

So, in your interview process, be sure to know what you can afford to pay.  Then, screen new lawyers on salary carefully.  Make sure you ask them how much they would like to make from a high to a low-end.  Listen carefully to their answers and make sure that you are hiring a new attorney whose expectations measure up with what you are paying, what the market is, etc.

If not, the employment of that new attorney might not last that long if you hire them. Many new lawyers will jump from job-to-job looking for so-called greener pastures if they have unrealistic salary expectations.

Additionally, if you ever want to know average salary figures for a particular area of law in a particular region, rough estimates can be found online.

If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.


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