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Lawyer Success and Salary Statistics

Working as an attorney in any legal field is highly competitive, making it difficult to stand out from rivals while vying for the same job opportunities.

According to the American Bar Association Profile of the Legal Profession (2020), approximately 1.3 million attorneys practice law in the United States. This number represents four attorneys for every 1000 residents in America.

Attorney Salary and Success Statistics

Statistical data from 2019 show that New York has the most lawyers at a rate of 9.5 attorneys per 1000 residents, followed by Maryland (6.7 attorneys) and Massachusetts (6.2 attorneys). ABA 2020 stats reveal that 37% of all attorneys are female, which is a significant rise of 31% females in 2010.

Other stats and facts include:

  • About 59% of potential clients look for a referral before hiring an attorney, and 57% indicate they first searched for a lawyer without asking for referrals, many looking online
  • Approximately 86% of all attorneys in 2020 are white, compared to 89% white lawyers in 2010
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the legal industry is projected to grow by 4% over the next decade
  • Approximately 37% of all legal professionals surveyed in 2020 believe that most attorneys should practice law virtually
  • Studies reveal that 59% of attorneys use web-based software services, including Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw
  • Approximately 62% of all law offices include technology in their annual budget
  • About 68% of law firms maintain a mobile-friendly website
  • Studies reveal that law firms that use multiple technologies increase their collectible growth rate by 20% a month per attorney
  • Surveys from 2020 revealed the 37% of legal clients prefer using video conferencing when meeting their attorney the first time, a percentage up significantly since the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Approximately 89% of legal professionals think that significant improvements can be made in the court system to gain better access to much-needed technology
  • About 45% of attorneys believe that technology helps create a more equitable justice system in the United States

Lawyer Salary Data

The length of time and dedication required to become an attorney is substantial but often rewarding for many successful lawyers working in specialized legal fields. Profitably earning a living as a legal professional usually depends on the lawyer’s cost-of-living, average salary, and practice areas.

Some individuals can live comfortably, earning $50,000 a year. However, getting a law degree usually has financial consequences for the graduate who pays thousands every month paying down student loans and must purchase “court” clothing to conduct business in an expensive city.

Some lawyer salary statistics and facts include:

  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revealed that in 2019, the median pay scale for an attorney was $122,960, which varies significantly by region and practice area
  • While the average median salary for an attorney in 2019 was $122,960, the lower 25% average salary was $80,950, and the high reached $186,350 of the top 25%
  • The Legal Trends Report in 2020 revealed that attorneys charge approximately $300 per hour based on the average hourly billable rate
  • A recent survey revealed about 72% of customers prefer paying their legal fees using a payment plan, and 65% would prefer paying electronically through PayPal, Apple Pay, debit cards, and credit cards
  • About 40% of consumers surveyed and 2020 stated they would never hire an attorney who did not accept credit and debit cards
  • One survey revealed that attorneys in Washington D.C charge a $380 average hourly billable rate, followed by California, where attorneys charge $338 per hour on average
  • Data shows that attorneys in West Virginia charge the lowest average hourly billable rate nationwide of $166
  • Bankruptcy attorneys charge the highest average hourly billing rate at $347
  • Juvenile Law attorneys charge the lowest average hourly billing rate at $88 per hour
  • Approximately 31% of an attorney’s workday is paid to billable hours
  • Lawyers lose approximately 12% of their hourly wage bill to clients due to a failure to collect
  • Stats reveal that approximately 85% of all attorneys are paid within one week of billing their client, and 57% of those paid the same day through electronic payment

Predicting Lawyer Success

Successful lawyers are those that consider every possible outcome when taking on clients dealing with summary judgments, settlements, plea-bargaining, jury trials, and bench trials. Whether the plaintiff decides to proceed with litigation affects how the lawyer will predict the outcome and, indirectly, their law firm’s success.

An attorney predicting a favorable trial outcome might recommend that the clients reject offers to ensure a more advantageous case resolution. However, if the lawyer inaccurately predicts the outcome or overstates any potential outcome could be disastrous for their plaintiff and the law firm.

One study involving nearly 500 trial attorneys across 44 states revealed that about 68% of them inaccurately predicted the outcome of a specific case. Approximately 44% of those were overly confident in their predicted outcome when the resolution was not what they expected.

The most successful lawyers usually have sufficient expertise or experience in their law field to determine the vast array of possible outcomes. These attorneys typically have diverse knowledge and opinions of the law, the case, and available evidence to create the strategy needed to win.

Law Schools: Earning a Law Degree

Newly licensed lawyers entering the legal industry after passing the bar are often strapped with hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in student loan debt needed to acquire their Juris Doctor degree.

The steady but slow increase of average lawyer wages in the legal profession continues to outpace professional careers for individuals who graduate from high school or earned a bachelor’s degree. However, the steady rise in law degree tuition has made it highly expensive for people to consider a career path in law. Other facts and stats about law schools include:

  • A recent U.S. News & World Report revealed that in 2019, private schools charged $48,869 per year compared to $40,725 paid for annual tuition at a public law college
  • Most law colleges evaluate the applicant’s chances of admission into the school on their Grade Point Average (GPA) and LSAT score
  • Stats by U.S. News show the average lawyer had a college debt burden of about $108,100 in 2017, paying on their student loans while earning an average salary of approximately $80,000 annually
  • Stats from the American Bar Association revealed that tuition at private schools in 1985 was $7526 on average, and $2006 on average a public schools
  • The applicant’s GPA and LSAT score accounts for only a portion of the consideration for admittance into the school, in addition to letters of recommendation and a personal essay
  • First-year lawyers working in the public sector usually generate about $54,500 a year to handle all expenses associated with their costs of living, including paying student debt burdens
  • Recent students graduating from Howard University School of Law (Washington D.C.) earned over three times the average salary a first-year attorney working in the private sector
  • In 2020, more females (53%) were enrolled in a law college than males, and among those enrolled in prestigious schools, females outnumber males 2 to 1
  • A 2018 study revealed that 52% of all law college graduates first earning a bachelors degree, followed by a law graduate degree in 2012, believe that their legal education was worth the financial burden
  • The National Center for Educational Statistics reveal that the typical law college graduate got their degree by taking on more than $145,500 in student debt while earning an average salary of $80,000
  • In 2019, UCLA law college launched a one year Master of Legal Studies program providing students with a master’s degree (not a degree in law) for significantly less than a Juris Doctor degree

High-Paying Successful Law Practice Areas

Many law students deal with the internal struggle of deciding what legal field will provide the most success, pay the most money, and provide the most reward when helping others. The legal industry provides many career opportunities after earning a degree to become a court messenger, law professor, trial attorney, or judge.

The most successful legal jobs that earn the most money include:

  • Trial attorney – Thousands of trial lawyers handle high-profile cases with high stakes, getting paid more than nearly all other legal professionals. According to the BLS, the median attorney salary for trial lawyers was $99,000 in 2018.
  • Tax attorney – Many tax lawyers solve complicated tax issues for businesses and private citizens. A tax attorney might provide legal assistance in estate planning, draft contracts, help others start businesses, or sue the Internal Revenue Service while earning over $100,000 per year.
  • Intellectual property attorney – Any individual or business needing a trademark, copyright, patent, or wants to expound on a profitable concept will turn to an intellectual property attorney for legal assistance. The BLS states that intellectual property lawyer salaries average $137,000 annually, where high-end lawyers generate $197,000 a year or more.
  • Personal injury lawyer – These lawyers work in tort law handling civil and private injuries and wrongs, including negligence, defamation, wrongful death, bad faith, harmful intent, and breach of contract. These lawyers work on behalf of plaintiffs to ensure they receive compensation for damages, including hospitalization expenses, loss of earnings, pain, suffering, medical expenses, loss of consortium, attorney fees, and legal costs. Personal injury law pays some of the highest salaries in the legal industry.
  • Labor and employment lawyer – These lawyers typically provide legal assistance to ensure that the relationship between employees and their boss remains balanced and might represent the employee, union, or employer. This legal field tends to compensate the attorney well with average lawyer salaries of approximately $87,000 (2018 figures) annually and others earning more than $185,000 a year.
  • Real estate attorney – The real estate industry is filled with contracts and deal-making that often require the assistance of a real estate attorney to ensure that the paperwork is handled correctly. Real estate lawyers earn decent money every year, with a median salary of more than $74,000 annually (2018 stats). Some lawyer salaries in real estate can be $145,000 a year or more.
  • Chief legal officer – These lawyers typically serve as general counsel to a corporation working as the company’s law department head. Usually, chief legal officer salaries are substantial, reaching seven figures with additional earning opportunities, including stock options, bonuses, and corporate perks.
  • Judges – Lawyers can seek out judgeships to work at the local, state, or federal level. The annual average salary of a judge or magistrate is $66,000 a year. However, federal court judges can earn nearly $200,000 a year and receive other perks, including health benefits, retirement plan contributions, and expense accounts.
  • Law school professor – Earning a law degree allows the graduate to work as a law school professor, teaching law courses, performing research, and publishing scholarly papers in nearly every legal field of expertise. An average professor’s salary varies significantly between colleges, universities, and schools, from $105,000 a year to $204,210.
  • Litigation support director – Many legal professionals entering the litigation support director field are paid high salaries, earning $80,000 a year on average. These legal associates manage, sort, index, abstract, and coordinate information and volumes of evidence required to resolve high-stakes litigation successfully.
  • Law firm administrator – These lawyers work as chief managing officers, overseeing every administrative and business aspect of running a successful law practice. Typically, the administrator does not deal with the legal aspects of the law office but handles reporting, financial management, human resources, business development, technology, facility management, practice management, and marketing.
  • Government prosecutors – Individuals working for the state government at the prosecutor’s office or Attorney’s General office generate a high income at the highest level, with earnings reaching $140,000 or more in annual salaries.

Personal Injury Law

The personal injury legal field is highly competitive but pays some of the highest salaries. Many personal injury lawyers have plenty of cases in numerous legal fields, including car accidents, medical malpractice, premises liability, dangerous medications, nursing home abuse, and wrongful death.

Other law practitioners find a niche and specialize in unique personal injury cases. Successful personal injury lawyers are those that help people who have been wronged through negligence or intention and taken advantage of by healthcare providers, manufacturers, trucking companies, insurance carriers, and others.

Personal injury legal field facts include:

  • Nearly all personal injury cases are settled out of court to avoid expensive litigation and resolve the case quickly and predictably
  • Taking a lawsuit to trial could be costly, with no guarantee of a successful outcome
  • Personal injury cases are often resolved by the defendant paying the plaintiff for economic and non-economic damages that are often difficult to calculate
  • Many successful personal injury attorneys seek punitive damages where the court system punishes the defendant because of their egregious negligence
  • Personal injury attorneys typically work on contingency fee agreements that allow their clients to avoid paying costly legal fees until the case is settled or resolved at trial
  • Sometimes, a personal injury attorney will charge their client upfront fees instead of taking cases on contingency when the evidence is minimal or too weak to ensure a successful outcome
  • Personal injury attorneys typically charge their client from 33.33% (negotiated settlement arrangement) to 40% (taking the case to trial) to resolve a personal injury claim
  • The upfront fees to resolve a personal injury claim could include expenses for reports, police paperwork, medical records, filing fees, and expert witness services

Lawyer Salary and Success FAQs

Our law office understands that many families have unanswered questions about whether working in the law for private practice or government agencies is a wise choice based on future job growth. We have answered some of those questions below concerning the annual wage for lawyers, the future job outlook, and the competition facing law school graduates.

What percentage of lawyers are successful?

According to the American Bar Association, about 36% of all attorneys say they are very successful, and about half indicate they are successful. Only 4% of attorneys that were surveyed in the study stated they were not successful.
Many attorneys in a solo practice (8%) indicate that their law office is unsuccessful. Alternatively, lawyers (44%) working for law firms between 11 and 29 other attorneys described the law firm as very successful.

What percentage do lawyers take from winning a case?

Personal injury attorneys typically work on a contingency fee basis, meaning that the law firm upfront covers all expenses until the case is resolved.

Lawsuits resolved through a negotiated settlement usually involve a 33.33% payment to the attorney of the agreed amount before paying any expenses, including the cost of filing fees, court fees, medical records, police reports, depositions, and interrogatories.

Lawsuits resolved at trial usually involve paying the attorney 40% of the awarded amount for the additional time required to prepare a case to present in front of a judge and jury. The attorney takes nothing if the case is not resolved in the client’s favor based on contingency fee agreements.

Is there a high demand for lawyers?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the legal field is expected to grow by about 4% over the next decade, which is on pace with all other occupations.

However, the legal field is expected to be highly competitive during the same time frame because more students are graduating from law school every year, while the number of jobs is growing slightly less on average.
Family lawyers continue to be in high demand in some areas of the country like Los Angeles, San Jose, and Santa Clara, California. Lawyers working for federal government agencies are needed in many large cities and Washington D.C.

Are lawyers usually wealthy?

While working as an attorney is a noble profession, most lawyers will likely never be wealthy during their lifetime earning only an average income. Working as an attorney is more of a middle-class job that often carries the excessive financial burden of paying student loan debt to earn a Juris Doctor degree.

Any individual applying for law school knowing that their career path will create wealth might be highly disappointed. A graduate does not have 100% guaranteed job security once they pass the state bar exam.

Do lawyers have success rates?

Law is highly complex, and the number of cases a lawyer must handle simultaneously makes the term “winning” hard to understand. In some cases, like personal injury law, delineating losing from winning can be challenging when the case is resolved through a negotiated settlement.

An attorney might recommend their clients agree to negotiated settlements for far less than they “might” win at trial. However, the recommendation is usually based on the uncertainty of an unpredictable outcome and how the jury will handle the evidence and decide the case.

Determining if the case was resolved successfully can be viewed from many different sides.

The Makings of the Successful Lawyer

The most successful lawyers with a rewarding career are usually those who listen to their clients, pay attention to witnesses, respectfully argue with opposing counsel, and follow the court’s orders. Highly successful lawyers know how to handle relevant information, analyze the data, and develop strategic plans to win their case.

These attorneys typically have a comprehensive understanding of the law and use their experience to be effective litigators when necessary or successful negotiators when required.

Typically, successful lawyers have strong writing abilities and high levels of creativity in using the law effectively on their client’s behalf. Forming a winning strategy usually requires good judgment and a healthy dose of skepticism to win a case that requires perseverance.

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