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Every starry-eyed law student dreams of a Biglaw job and a six figures salary. However, in the ‘real world’, there are equally important legal jobs that are not equally paid.

While a nice Salary is a definitely important component, especially if you have six-figure student loans, making the right choice for your career satisfaction will help prevent burnout, which is a common problem in the legal profession.

But as it turns out, a top dollar isn’t always the indicator for a happy and fulfilled attorney.


Researchers surveyed 6,200 lawyers about their jobs and health found that the factors most frequently associated with success in the legal field, such as high income or a partner-track job at a prestigious firm, had “almost zero correlation with happiness and well-being,” reports the New York Times


Median Salary – $47,000

Surprisingly, many law school graduates have only been able to find a job as paralegals. Paralegals do a ton of paperwork and fact-checking that needs to be done in a law office on a daily basis. Paralegals assist attorneys by preparing legal documents, researching legal precedents and investigating facts, among many other tasks. 

Paralegals— often called legal secretaries—are traditionally people who cannot practice law and have specialized training. However, in a tough economy, there are barred law graduates competing for paralegal jobs as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment of paralegals is expected to increase much faster than average, with about 39,000 paralegal jobs being added from 2018 to 2028, an increase of 12%.

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While some law firms report that two out of five applicants for paralegal positions are JDs, many firms aren’t willing to hire law school graduates for paralegal positions. It is understandable since they have been trained in a different skill set and are extremely overqualified.

Paralegals earn an average salary of $47,000, although in some cases, depending on the area and the training of the paralegal, they can be paid as high as $65,000.

Below is a list of the top-10 highest-paying states for paralegals.

  1. Connecticut $62,760
  2. California $61,240
  3. Washington $60,940
  4. Massachusetts $60,320
  5. Alaska $59,140
  6. New York $58,750
  7. Colorado $58,350
  8. New Jersey $58,260
  9. Nevada $57,600
  10. Delaware $57,290

Public Defender

Median Salary – $62,000

Public defenders have one of the toughest jobs in the legal industry – but also one of the most rewarding. In America, one out of five criminal defendants cannot afford a lawyer, and public defenders are the heroes who stand up for the vast majority of people charged with crimes. Public defenders have the difficult job of representing criminal defendants who cannot find representation or cannot pay for an upcoming hearing or trial. Just as many people in the public service sector of the law, public defenders are notoriously underpaid and overworked. The Average Salary for a public defender is $62,000, although in certain cities it can reach as high as $100,000. Sacrificing the big paycheck to help those in need, public defenders find job satisfaction amid some of the most emotionally-taxing circumstances.

Legal Aid Attorney

Median Salary $42,000

Legal Aid attorneys represent people who cannot afford lawyers. The job of these attorneys is helping those in need, and they are notoriously underpaid. The median salary for a legal services attorney is $42,000, but that can increase to around $63,000 in some states and after many years of experience. These are public interest jobs that many lawyers get a great deal of satisfaction out of, even if they don’t make a large amount of money.

Immigration Attorney

Median Salary $67,000

With immigration being a hot-button issue, immigration attorneys are in high demand across the country. Immigration attorneys represent clients who are new to the country and are dealing with other aspects of the government. Whether they are having trouble filling their immigration paperwork, or have committed a crime, the average salary for an immigration attorney is $67,000, and some states pay up to $106,000 per year.

If you have an interest in one of these lower-paying legal fields, that is perfectly legitimate. 

According to a 2015 study released in the George Washington Law Review, attorneys with the lowest salaries reported more of a sense of happiness than those in high-pay, high-stakes legal jobs.

“Making partner, the ultimate gold ring at many firms, does not appear to pay off in greater happiness, either. Junior partners reported well-being that was identical to that of senior associates, who were paid 62 percent less,” according to the study, which was published this week in the George Washington Law Review.



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