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Lawyers’ Salaries Dropping, Bureau of Labor Statistics Reveal
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Summary: New data shows that lawyers’ salaries have decreased in the past decade. 

If someone told you that being a lawyer wasn’t a well-paying job, would you have still chosen the career? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay for a salaried attorney is $118,160 per year and while that’s a healthy number, the amount has dropped from nearly a decade ago (counting inflation) and there are other careers that are now more lucrative.


Deborah J. Merritt of Law School Cafe analyzed the BLS statistics, and she discovered that lawyers (not including sole practitioners or equity partners) are being paid less than they were in 2006. In that year, there were only six occupations that on average paid better than attorney–chief executives, physicians and surgeons, dentists and dental surgeons, air traffic controllers, podiatrists, and engineering managers–but now other occupations such as pharmacists, advertising or sales managers, and nurse anesthetists have fatter bank accounts than their attorney friends.

“After adjusting for inflation, the median salaried lawyer earned 2.9% more ($121,562) in 2006 than today,” Merrit stated. “Salary trends are even worse for lawyers below the fiftieth percentile. At the twenty-fifth percentile (and, again, using constant 2016 dollars), lawyers earned $82,935 in 2006 but just $77,580 today. That’s a decline of 6.5%. At the tenth percentile, the figures are $60,004 in 2006 and $56,910 today–a decline of 5.2%.”

Merritt also analyzed attorneys in the 75th percentile and the 25th percentile, and she concluded that those lawyers’ salaries were also slipping from the past.

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For instance, salaried attorneys in the 75th percentile earned $176,580 in 2016, but in 2008, they earned $181,099 (when adjusted for inflation.) Additionally, airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers; petroleum engineers; and marketing managers were bypassing even the luckiest attorneys when it came down to bringing in the big bucks.

Attorneys in the 25th percentile made on average $77,580, and Merritt said that in this population “we see even more clearly the salary erosion compared to other occupations.” For instance, here are a handful of other occupations that pay better than attorney:

  • computer hardware engineers ($88,290)
  • compensation and benefits managers ($87,120)
  • nurse practitioners ($86,970)
  • political scientists ($86,600)
  • physician assistants ($86,130)
  • purchasing managers ($82,880)
  • optometrists ($81,480)
  • HR managers ($80,800)
  • PR and fundraising managers ($78,710)

“We don’t talk much about the 25th percentile for salaries, but it’s a very relevant marker for students contemplating a career path. New hires tend to start low on the salary scale, so high school and college students will know employees in this salary range. The junior lawyers they meet are no longer earning higher incomes than the junior pharmacists, nurse practitioners, political scientists, or HR managers. This shines a new light on their career decisions,” Merritt wrote.

Merritt said that this money decline could be an issue attracting future law students, and we have already seen instances of this with decreased law school applications and smaller law school incoming classes.

So what’s the takeaway to all this data? Will there be an uptick in salary?

According to Merritt, an upside in more money for attorneys isn’t likely, and she said that in general, it’s important for anyone choosing to go into the legal profession to not do it for the salary.

Let’s hope that law schools are listening when it comes to how much they’re charging their students.

Source: Law School Cafe

What do you think of the decline in attorney salaries? Let us know in the comments below.


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