Above all, lawyers with honors are urgently needed – and this is reflected in a high salary. But even with average qualifications, the earning potential is good.
That is what lawyers earn on average
The differences in the salary of lawyers are extremely large. It depends on several factors, with the grade of the two state exams, especially the second, playing the decisive role. Academic degrees, additional qualifications acquired during the course, the choice of legal area, the size of the law firm, the state and professional experience are also relevant for the salary.
In the following table, the average gross annual salaries of lawyers are differentiated according to professional experience and size of the law firm.
Legal salaries according to professional experience and size of the firm
Small law firm
Large law firm
|Associate||$ 50,000||$ 75,000||$ 100,000 (plus bonuses)|
|Senior associate||$ 70,000||$ 85,000||$ 125,000 (plus bonuses)|
|Counsel (permanent lawyer without partnership)||$ 85,000||$ 125,000||$ 175,000 (plus bonuses)|
|Salary / Junior / Local / Fixed Share Partner (employed partner)||$ 100,000||$ 150,000||$ 200,000 (plus bonuses)|
|Equity Partner (full partner)||$ 150,000||$ 250,000||$ 500,000 (plus bonuses, before taxes)|
In general, lawyers who specialize in commercial, corporate, as a bankruptcy attorney, banking or capital market law receive an above-average salary. In contrast, lawyers who specialize in social, criminal, family and tenancy law earn less than the average.
And the location also has an effect on earnings: generous salaries are available in the major cities in the US, while significantly lower salaries are to be expected, especially in the new federal states.
Starting salaries for lawyers
According to “Perspective Law 2022”, the corona pandemic had temporarily led to significant slumps in the labor market for lawyers; but the situation has eased again. Medium- and long-term consequences are still not foreseeable.
Above-average graduates in particular can look forward to high starting salaries in 2021 as well. These have always been quite generous compared to other professions, but in recent years the earnings have risen significantly again, as reported by the study and career advice center of the law faculty of the University of California.
Highly qualified fully qualified lawyers: starting salary well over $ 100,000
Graduates with two distinctive exams in particular, with the grade “fully satisfactory” or better, have excellent career prospects. They are extremely sought-after as workers because, according to “Perspective Law 2022”, only “a small part” of the 7,500 law graduates annually complete the second state examination with this grade or better. The need for these highly qualified people is very great. The starting salaries are correspondingly high: While six-digit dollar amounts were still the exception in 2016, top law firms are now paying such a gross annual salary more and more frequently in order to get very well-trained young talent. In well-known large law firms, up to $ 140,000 per year are available to join.
Starting salaries for lawyers in small law firms and boutiques
In the so-called boutiques, i.e. the law firms with 50 or fewer lawyers, the starting salary is on average $ 75,000 according to “Perspective Law 2022”. In smaller law firms with ten or fewer lawyers, which dominate the Americanlegal services market, young lawyers start with an average of $ 50,000 per year.
Lawyer: Salary with increasing professional experience
As in other professions, the salary of female lawyers usually increases with the years of work they have completed. This is particularly the case in the top law firms, where gradually increasing salaries are common. In boutique law firms with up to 50 employees and even smaller firms, however, salary jumps are often linked to (junior) partnerships. Managing associates or senior associates with three to seven years of professional experience sometimes earn $ 150,000 to $ 200,000 a year in the top law firms, but on average more than $ 125,000.
What does a partner earn in a law firm?
The highest income among employed lawyers can be booked by the partners of a large law firm – in top law firms, according to “Perspective Jura 2022”, an average of around half a million dollars. The partner’s income is dependent on sales; the variable portion can be up to 50 percent. Employed junior partners usually receive a fixed salary plus bonuses, on average they earn $ 200,000 gross per year in the US.
Increase in salary for lawyers through doctoral degrees
A PhD not only opens doors for attorneys that might otherwise be closed to them, but it also pays off financially. This was the result of a survey conducted by the platform Salary.de in autumn 2017. On average, female lawyers with a doctorate earn around $ 33,000 more per year. In many of the top 50 law firms, a doctorate and / or an LL.M. including the corresponding knowledge of foreign languages has been a necessary condition for a long time, but due to the great need for very well-trained lawyers, this principle is currently partially weakened.
Legal salaries: East-West comparison and gender pay gap
As in many other professions, lawyers in the old federal states earn more money than in the new ones. In the legal profession, the difference in income is even considerable. As the Federal Bar Association (BRAK) reports on the basis of the statistical reporting system of the lawyers STAR, the average gross annual income of employed full-time lawyers in the old federal states was 76,000 dollars in 2016, in the new federal states only $ 37,000. This gap is unlikely to have changed much in percentage terms in 2021 either.
And the income differences between men and women are also large: According to the 2018 STAR report, salaried lawyers earned an average of $ 74,000 gross per year, women lawyers only 54,000 dollars.
Freelance lawyers have, on average, lower incomes than their salaried colleagues. According to the BRAK, in 2016 they earned an average of 50,000 dollars’ gross annually – men 55,000 dollars, women 45,000 dollars. The region doesn’t have that dramatic impact either.
Salary of public prosecutors: Clear differences in the federal states
Prosecutors and public prosecutors, which already implies the Occupation, are in government service officials acting. Your salary is regulated in the salary regulation R (judges and public prosecutors). This is quite different depending on the federal state. This results in differences of well over ten percent. This is made clear by the sample cases published by the American Bar Association for 2020: According to this, an unmarried, childless public prosecutor earned $ 51,288 gross per year (2020) in his first year of employment (grade R1); in Washington, it was $ 58,008.
There are also significant differences in income among public prosecutors with many years of professional experience. In 2020, a married public prosecutor with two children in grade R2 / final stage in the service of the federal government received $ 99,156 gross and thus around $ 5,000 more per year for his work than comparable colleagues in the state of Oklahoma. A senior public prosecutor in grade R 4 can book a basic gross salary of 107,244 dollars in California (as of September 2021), a senior public prosecutor in R 5 around 114,000 dollars.
For federal prosecutors, for example at the Federal Court of Justice, the salary regulation R of the federal government applies. Public prosecutors in entry group R 2 earn almost 67,000 dollars’ gross annually (from April 2022), senior public prosecutors in salary group R 6 around 127,000 dollars. The Federal Prosecutor General receives a basic salary of just under $ 150,000 gross per year.