Median pay for a lawyer was $119,250 per year in 2017, according to the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. But that figure doesn't tell the whole story.
Salaries in the legal field vary widely. Law students know that a law degree doesn't guarantee a job as a lawyer. Some law students are not even trying to be lawyers.
There are many reasons why people attend law school in the first place, and money does factor into the equation. So if you're already in law school or perhaps already in the legal field and you're looking to maximize your income, you will want to know what your options are.
They're right here, in our list of some of the highest paying law jobs in existence today. Peruse this list to find out how you can apply your legal education in a job that justifies the expense of your degree.
Highest Paying Law Jobs: Lawyers
When most people think of law jobs, they think of lawyers. With your knowledge of the field, you likely don't. However, there are worse places to start a list of high paying legal jobs than with the industry's bread and butter.
These are the highest paying jobs you can get as a lawyer.
Trial lawyers are the rockstars of the legal world, and they get paid like it.
These jobs are high stakes and often involve high-profile clients. The higher profile your client is, the more they are willing to spend on their legal team.
There are trial lawyers who do less glamorous work. Just because you're appearing in court doesn't mean you're the Mick Jagger of the legal world. Lawyers who represent clients in the nonprofit sector and in other matters of public interest get paid modest salaries compared to their peers.
That said, a median salary for a trial lawyer is in the range of $130,000 to $140,000. Not bad when we're talking about arguing for a living.
Intellectual Property Lawyers
Intellectual property law is another high stakes field. Clients seek out legal assistance to protect their ideas, which help them found businesses and pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. With so much money on the line, it's no wonder they pay a pretty penny for their lawyers.
The full range of issues that intellectual property lawyers cover includes patents, trademarks, and copyrights. That's anything from a new invention to the rights to a song in a sampling case, although there is some overlap with entertainment law in the latter case.
Median pay for an intellectual property lawyer is similar to trial lawyers, $140,000. However, some intellectual property lawyers can earn nearly $300,000 per year.
Not only is intellectual property law lucrative, it's growing. Explosions in the tech sector have increased demand for these lawyers, so prospects for this profession are bright.
Real Estate Attorneys
It may surprise you to see real estate attorneys on our list, but it shouldn't. Lots of money changes hands in real estate deals, and the lawyers representing all parties reap the benefits.
Real estate lawyers oversee property sales, which involves the minutiae of reviewing contracts and evaluating offers. They aren't quite the same as probate lawyers, who deal with estate planning, but they're close.
The most lucrative real estate attorneys can earn in excess of $125,000 for their services.
Another more mundane area of the law is the source of quite a bit of income for those in the legal profession. This also has to do with the variety of clients and the size of deals these professionals handle.
Tax attorneys may work with high-income individuals as well as large corporate clients. The work isn't as flashy as appearing in court. But considering that their jobs include estate planning and dealings with the IRS, tax attorneys earn every penny of their median pay of $100,000.
Chief Legal Officers
"Wait," you might say, "I thought this was the lawyers section of the list." It is.
CLOs are not the equivalents of a CEO or COO. Those latter positions boast any number of unique and intelligent individuals, but we've all heard stories of the high school dropout who became CEO.
That's not an option for chief legal officers. A law degree is required for these positions, which are also known as general counsel.
These attorneys head the legal departments of businesses. Naturally, those who work for large corporations earn higher salaries than those who work with small businesses and startups. But all chief legal officers are able to earn much more than their base pay thanks to the frequent bonuses that come with their line of work.
Highest Paying Law Jobs: Non-Lawyers That Require Law Degrees
Now let's turn away from the spotlight to the legal jobs that still require law degrees but may not be what you think of first in the field.
Many of the members of these professions started out as lawyers but found better fits, and in some cases greater pay, in these positions.
Members of Congress
Many former lawyers find a balance between earning and working for the public good as employees of the government.
Since a congressperson helps make laws, a law degree helps them understand their job from the inside. Not every member of Congress has one, but it gives you a leg up if you're running to have a legal background.
Members of Congress make around $175,000 a year, and some of the more senior members can make up to $20,000 more.
Some see being a member of the judiciary as an even more selfless way to contribute to the government while maintaining a tie to their legal past.
Jurisdictions run the gamut from local courts all the way up to the Supreme Court, with many stops in between. Some judge positions require election, but at the early stages, it's possible to be appointed with a good law degree and the right clerkship under your belt.
Judges salaries reside in the $150,000 range, which is a good deal as a public servant.
Law School Professors
If you never want to leave law school, a professorship may be the profession for you.
Law school professors require an encyclopedic knowledge of the law, or at least the area they teach. They are often well versed in the Constitution, and they usually have a grasp of the linguistic roots of their profession as well.
At the top of the ladder, a law school dean can earn nearly $450,000. Most professors don't make that much, but they still do very well for themselves. The average law professor makes upward of $100,000. With enough experience and seniority, they can make $300,000.
Highest Paying Law Jobs: Non-Lawyers That Do Not Require Law Degrees
Finally, we've reached the point on our list that some first year law students would never consider. But those who have been in the field long enough know not to scoff at any part of the process.
All of these jobs are essential, and people who are interested in law without the specialization (and expense) of a law degree will find these positions suited to their interests and pocketbooks.
Law Firm Administrators
At first glance, their titles appear similar to chief legal officers, but law firm administrators may not touch any of the actual legal aspects of a business. That's because they work for law firms that already employ many legal minds.
Instead, it is the administrator's job to oversee the business operations of a law firm. You can think of them as the inverse of the chief legal officer. Their purview includes human resources, technology, marketing, facilities management, and the day-to-day operations of the practice.
Administrators who work for big firms make the most money, and those who work in big cities can do even better than many lawyers financially. It's not unheard of for them to make half a million dollars annually, with the range dipping to $300,000 on the low end.
Compared to other job titles on this list, court reporters are not the highest earners. But their proximity to the law gives them quite the financial edge over similar administrative and transcription careers.
Court reporters can earn $50,000 per year. They can launch their careers with a certificate or even on-the-job training.
Job Options As Varied As the Law Itself
When it comes to the legal profession, the singular is inadequate. We should think of legal professions.
While there are certainly those humble individuals who take pay cuts because of their specific callings, it's possible to do great good and still make good money in the legal field.
Hopefully, after looking over our list of the highest paying law jobs, you've got a sense of where one might fit into your future. Just make sure not to sacrifice your quality of life.
For an even deeper dive into jobs in the legal field, browse the law section of our site.