Public Interest Attorney Salaries See Small Increase in 14 Years
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Summary: The latest survey on public service attorney salaries places a dim light on the state of salaries in civil legal services organizations.

The National Association for Law Placement released its latest research on salaries for public service attorneys. The NALP/PSJD’s 2018 Public Service Attorney Salary Survey shows a fair increase since 2004 but those in civil legal services organizations such public defenders or local prosecuting attorneys, and attorneys in public interest organizations had the lowest median entry-level salary, smallest salary increases based on experience, and slowest growth in salary levels since 2004.


The report done periodically in the past 14 years shows in general that experience brings only a small salary increase, especially for those with civil legal service organizations. An example from the data shows that the median entry-level salary is $48,000. In 2004, the starting salary was $34,000. For those with 11-15 years of experience, the median salary was just $69,500.

The survey is conducted among civil legal services organizations, offices of public defenders, local prosecuting attorneys, and public interest organizations to find information on salaries of entry-level and experienced attorneys in public interest organizations. The reported salaries are rounded to the nearest $100. A total of 347 organizations participated in the survey, according to the NALP press release.

NALP executive director James Leipold said, “It is gratifying to see that salaries for public service attorneys continue to rise but at a time when private sector starting salaries at the largest law firms are on the move as well, the gap between large law firm salaries and public service salaries is highlighted. Supporting lawyers who work in the public interest with professional compensation packages that allow them to pay down their student debt, afford housing, and do the good work they do has never been more important.”

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The report organizes the data by region and by the type of organization, which allows one to see if and in which area entry-level salaries are higher or lower. The chart also shows which organizations pay more or less than the median salary. The types of benefits given to attorneys by their organizations is also included in the data.

The survey is conducted alongside the law firm companion survey – NALP’s 2017 Associate Salary Survey. This survey highlights distinctions between public sector/public interest salaries and law firm salaries. The median first-year salary for attorneys at a law firm with 50 or less attorneys was $90,000, almost double the legal services organization salary. The number of first-year associates at big law firms grew to $180,000 last year and continues to grow to a number that those in legal service organizations can only dream of.

Do you think public interest jobs need a big boost in salaries? How do you think this can be done? Where would the money come from? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about associate salaries in big law firms, read these articles:



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