Becoming a lawyer has always been a popular and well-paid profession. However, certain trends in the market will affect the job outlook for lawyers and the pay scale.
Lawyers help individuals, corporations and governments with their legal matters. They do research and analysis of legal problems and offer advice of strategies to deal with these issues.
Lawyers represent clients in courts and communicate with judges and other parties involved in cases. They prepare documents for lawsuits, contracts, wills, deeds and appeals to courts.
Aspiring lawyers must first receive a bachelor’s degree and then complete a three-year program at an accredited law school. After graduation, lawyers are required to pass a bar exam in their state of employment. If a lawyer wants to practice in another state, he has to also pass the bar exam for that state.
Industry and Salaries
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of a lawyer is $141,890 a year, which means half earned more than this amount and half earned less. This figure has not changed significantly for the past few years. The lowest 10 percent earn $57,430 per year, while the upper 10 percent brings in $208,000.
For a new lawyer, the median pay annual income for firms based on number of lawyers, is as follows:
50 or fewer: $90,000
But, starting salaries have risen dramatically at the high end. For several years, the benchmark beginning salary for new graduates at large law firms with 501-700 employees has been $160,000 a year, plus bonuses. However, more recently this starting figure has jumped into the $180,000 range. The National Association for Law Placement reports in its latest survey that 46 percent of these large firms are paying new graduates at the $180,000 level.
Most of these mega-firms are located in the District of Columbia, California, New York, Massachusetts and Delaware.
Years of Experience
The continuing issuance of more government regulations are making corporate life more difficult. Dodd-Frank, with 2,400 pages of rules, is one example. Obamacare is another. Corporations need more lawyers to interpret and navigate through this complex maze of regulations.
Unfortunately, according to the American Bar Association, the number of law school graduates declined from 46,776 in 2013 to around 35,000 for the most recent year.
Job Growth Trend or Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an eight percent growth in jobs for lawyers through 2026. Large law firms will continue as the major employers for new law graduates. But major corporations are also hiring more lawyers as they increase staffing for their in-house legal departments to cut costs.
The greatest amount of growth is expected in consulting firms, healthcare providers, financial institutions and insurance companies. The federal government will continue to need more lawyers to handle increasing case loads of civil cases, criminal prosecutions and enforcement of all those new regulations.
The growth rate of jobs, combined with the decline in the number of new law school graduates, should lead to a strong job market for the next several years. More government regulations will require a greater number of lawyers to help corporations deal with the legal requirements. The employment outlook for lawyers should remain positive.
The downside is that companies will also try to find ways to reduce their legal expenses by keeping wages down and hiring more paralegals.