The Highest Paying Legal Jobs

A lawyer goes over paperwork with a client.
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Are you in law school and wondering what legal occupations earn the most or the least money? This shouldn’t be the deciding factor when you're determining what type of law you want to practice, but it's understandably a consideration for many law school students

The legal industry offers hundreds of other career options. You're not limited to only practicing law. You might teach, manage a firm, or even serve in political office. Practicing law might be the most consistently lucrative option, but you also have many different fields of law to choose from if you take this route.

Note

Salaries can range from minimum wage to nine-digit incomes, depending on geographic location, market demand, experience level, practice environment, and employer size.

Trial Lawyers

Trial lawyers are among the highest paid legal professionals in the world. Thousands practice across the globe, but civil litigators who handle high dollar, high profile and high stakes cases are the most highly compensated. 

Not all lawyers take in high incomes, however. Many public interest lawyers and solo practitioners earn modest salaries. The salary for trial lawyers ranges from a median of about $99,000 according to PayScale to $119,000 on average according to ZipRecruiter as of mid-2022.

Intellectual Property Lawyers

Intellectual property laws protect ideas such as patents, copyrights, trademarks, and other profitable concepts. This is a fast-growing area of law as technology continues to advance, and it's also statistically among the most lucrative. The median pay was nearly $129,000 in February 2022. Lawyers on the high end could earn as much as $252,000 a year.

Tax Attorneys

These attorneys work with both individuals and businesses to solve tax issues. They help with estate planning, and even with suing the Internal Revenue Service. They're often essential consultants when someone is starting a business or when contracts must be drafted.

Note

Compensation can vary depending on your location.

This type of work isn’t as flashy as that of trial lawyers, but tax attorneys bring in decent paychecks. Their median pay was about $102,000 in June 2022, while some were earning as much as $195,000.

Real Estate Attorneys

Real estate attorneys review offers and contracts to make sure that both buyers and sellers get fair deals. Although real estate attorneys make decent salaries, the median pay was only about $87,000 as of August 2022. These lawyers can earn as much as about $133,000 a year, however.

Note

The mean annual wage for all types of lawyers was $127,990 in May 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Median" indicates that half of all lawyers earned more than this, and half earned less.

Chief Legal Officers

Chief legal officers (CLOs), also known as general counsel, head the law departments of corporations. The larger the corporation, the greater the general counsel's salary. Earnings for CLO's heading large, multinational corporations can reach seven figures. In addition to base salaries, chief legal officers earn bonuses, stock options, and other perks that can sweeten their compensation packages considerably. 

Chief legal officers earned a median salary of about $207,000 in August 2022, with earnings topping out in the range of $338,000, according to PayScale.

Judges and Hearing Officers

Judges and hearing officers preside over proceedings in federal, state, and local courts. Judges and magistrates earned a median annual salary of $148,030 in May 2021, while the median for administrative law judges, hearing officers, and adjudicators was $102,550.

The highest paid judges are those within the federal court system. Local judges and magistrates earn the least. Most judges enjoy healthy benefits as well as generous salaries, including expense accounts and contributions to retirement plans made on their behalf. This increases the size of their compensation packages.

Members of Congress

A career in politics might be for you if you like the idea of working toward changing laws for the betterment of an entire state or country. A law degree isn’t technically a requirement to get into politics, but it can certainly help. Members of Congress bring home $174,000 per year and some higher positions, such as the Speaker of the House, earn about $223,500 as of 2022.

Law School Professor

Law school professors teach courses in law, perform research, and publish scholarly works in their fields of expertise. Salaries vary by region and by the school. The median salary for full professors was $132,000 in January 2022, topping out at $202,000.

Securing a position as a law school professor is competitive. Qualifications for top candidates include a law degree from a top law school, law review, high class standing, judicial clerkship experience, law practice experience, and publication credits in scholarly journals.

Litigation Support Director

Legal professionals who are also tech savvy are climbing the salary ladder as technology changes the face of law practices. Litigation support managers commanded a median salary of $131,245 as of July 2022, according to Salary.com. Top earners usually have law degrees or advanced degrees in technology, business, or finance.

Litigation support directors manage firm-wide litigation support activities, e-discovery initiatives, and technology resources. Litigation support salaries are predicted to climb as the demand for these professionals spirals upward and experienced personnel remain scarce.

Note

Salary is an important consideration in any job, but it's more important that you're passionate about what you do so that both you and your firm can be successful.

Legal Office Administrator

Legal office administrators or chief managing officers (CMOs) oversee the business and administrative aspects of running a law firm. Their duties cover the non-legal aspects of law practice, such as financial management and reporting, business development, human resources, facilities management, technology, marketing, and practice management. Their median salary as of July 2022 was $69,197, reaching a high of $86,570.

Law firm administrators typically work fewer hours than most big firm lawyers. CMO positions require less education. Many who are employed in this role have only a bachelor's degree. This can be a great career option for those seeking a lucrative job in the legal industry.

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. ZipRecruiter. "Trial Attorney Salary."

  2. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Intellectual_Property_(IP)_Lawyer/Salary

  3. PayScale. "Average Intellectual Property (IP) Lawyer Salary."

  4. PayScale. "Average Tax Attorney Salary."

  5. PayScale. "Average Real Estate Attorney Salary."

  6. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Outlook Handbook/Lawyers."

  7. PayScale. "Average Chief Legal Officer Salary."

  8. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Outlook Handbook/Judges and Hearing Officers."

  9. Congressional Research Service. "Salaries of Members of Congress: Recent Actions and Historical Tables," Page 1.

  10. PayScale. "Average Professor of Law Salary."

  11. Salary.com. "Litigation Support Manager Salary in the United States."

  12. Salary.com. "Legal Office Administrator Salary in the United States."

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