Most attorneys — 81% — have done pro bono work at some point in their careers, the American Bar Association reports. As of 2016, lawyers provided an average of about 37 hours of such free work.
Granted, lawyers tend to earn handsome pay when they’re not giving away their time. Although becoming a lawyer takes years of hard work, the rewards can be immeasurable in terms of career fulfillment and, of course, high pay.
The national average pay among lawyers is $144,230 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s nearly triple the national average for workers across all occupations, which is $51,960.
In some parts of the country, though, the average lawyer’s earnings are much lower than the national average for the profession — less than six figures, even. In other areas, lawyers’ average earnings are much higher than the national average.
See for yourself: Following are the average annual wages that lawyers earn in all 50 states as well as Washington, D.C., according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We ranked the states from lowest to highest average pay.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $88,600
Lawyers in No. 51-ranked Montana easily earn the lowest average pay of any state in the nation — nearly $10,000 less than the No. 50-ranked state. But lawyers in Montana are still making bank compared with the average resident of Big Sky Country.
In fact, the average lawyer in Montana earns more than twice as much as the average worker in the state. Montana’s average annual wage across all professions is $43,860, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $97,990
While lawyers in Mississippi earn tens of thousands of dollars less than the national average for their profession, they likely have relatively low expenses. As of the first quarter of this year, Mississippi had the lowest cost of living of any state, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.
Still, the state judiciary is helping low-income residents with legal matters. They will be able to attend dozens of free family law clinics throughout Mississippi this year to get help with issues related to divorce, name changes and guardianship, among other things. The Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project also offers pro se (self-representation) clinics.
49. West Virginia
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $98,630
Harrison County native Susan Morris wants to change the perception that public defenders are substandard attorneys simply because they are court-appointed to represent defendants who can’t afford to hire private attorneys.
“The ultimate goal, no matter what side of the ‘vs.’ you’re on, is to see that justice is done,” the chief public defender in West Virginia’s 15th Judicial Circuit court system told WVNews.com in June.
The online publication reports that although Morris’ office is funded by a grant from the state, public defenders in the 15th Circuit are not considered state employees when it comes to raises. The amount of the grant does not fluctuate with the cost of living, either.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $98,780
The Arkansas Bar Association has partnered with the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service to create a Public Service Academy, one of only three in the nation sponsored by a bar association, to enable lawyers to explore their interests in public service such as serving on school boards or city councils.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $99,360
Being an attorney in the Gem State is worth the effort monetarily, with an average yearly wage that’s more than twice as high as the average worker in the state. Idaho’s average annual wage across all professions is $43,480, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $100,100
The Bluegrass State was hit with a rash of lawyer suicides earlier this decade — at least a dozen in less than a three-year period. Some speculated that dashed idealism could have been a factor, and bar officials said they thought depression was at the root of the suicides.
The Kentucky Bar Association’s Kentucky Lawyer Assistance Program helps lawyers, judges and law students to cope with mental health problems like depression, stress, and alcohol and drug abuse.
45. South Carolina
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $105,320
Recent action by the South Carolina State Supreme Court added a restriction for lawyers seeking to advertise services using information about their representation of clients, Bloomberg Law reports. Lawyers in the state can still do such advertising but must get informed consent.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $105,490
A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2018 has the Louisiana State Bar Association fearing it could lose its status as a mandatory organization for attorneys in the state. The high court in its ruling on Janus vs. AFSCME struck down state laws that required teachers and other public employees to pay fees to support a union.
Up to now, all attorneys practicing law in Louisiana had to join the state bar association and pay annual membership dues. But some worry that the SCOTUS decision could lead to the end of that requirement.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $105,600
Because of staff shortages, Wyoming’s Office of the State Public Defender recently said it would no longer represent defendants who have been charged with only misdemeanor offenses, citing staffing shortages.
The decision has Wyoming judges up in arms, but the office told state lawmakers it needs more staff in order to adequately represent clients. Diane Lozano, director of the State Public Defender’s Office, said its caseload has increased by 2,000 cases a year since 2007, noting that Campbell County’s four full-time public defenders are each assigned about 470 cases per year.
42. New Mexico
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $105,910
In order to help folks unable to afford a lawyer, the New Mexico Supreme Court is contemplating allowing non-lawyers to give civil legal services. The court cited two counties in the state that don’t have a single practicing lawyer and two other counties that have one lawyer each.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $107,120
This June, Maine became only the second state to adopt a controversial revised rule from the American Bar Association on lawyer misconduct that prohibits discrimination and harassment by lawyers, Bloomberg Law reports.
While it might seem like an obvious provision to uphold, some have criticized its scope, arguing that such a rule could limit lawyer speech in situations in which their speech could be considered demeaning.
40. North Dakota
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $107,290
If you’re from the Peace Garden State and you want to become a lawyer, you can go a relatively affordable route at the University of North Dakota’s law school. In-state, full-time tuition is $13,023, although U.S. News & World Report ranked the law school as high as No. 146 out of 201 schools.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $107,490
Vermont, like its fellow northern New England states Maine and New Hampshire, is in desperate need of young lawyers who can help make sure folks will be able to get proper legal representation on into the future. More than 60% of attorneys in Vermont today are over age 50.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $108,170
Even though the average Nebraska attorney earns six figures a year, 12 of the Cornhusker State’s 93 counties don’t have even a single lawyer, according to the Nebraska State Bar Association.
The association’s Rural Practice Initiative works to encourage law students and young lawyers to launch law practices in underserved parts of the state.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $109,020
In an effort to boost the lawyer population in rural Kansas, the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka offers a summer externship program as part of its Rural Law Program.
“The goal of the program is to provide students with opportunities to experience life and law practice in a rural community, as well as to interest them in pursuing careers in rural Kansas,” says the law school’s website.
36. South Dakota
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $109,070
U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of South Dakota’s school of law No. 138 out of 201. But with a full-time in-state tuition of $16,944 and a full-time out-of-state tuition of $34,872, it offers some of the lowest sticker prices among law schools.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $110,180
Julie Fershtman, former president of the State Bar of Michigan, has had to cope with tragedy and illness — the murder of her attorney father and her own breast cancer diagnosis. But Fershtman stayed strong and co-founded a networking program to help female lawyers support and promote one another.
Nationally, 45% of associates at private law practices were women in 2016 but only 18% of equity partners at such firms were women in 2015, according to the Michigan Bar Journal.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $111,290
The average attorney pay exceeds $100,000 per year in Hawaii, but that might sound better than it really turns out to be after accounting for local living expenses.
As of the first quarter of this year, the Aloha State was No. 51 with the highest cost of living of any state in the nation — nearly twice the national average cost of living, in fact — according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $112,380
Several attorneys at a law firm in St. George received an “AV Preeminent” rating earlier this year through the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings system, considered one of the most prestigious evaluation systems in the legal profession.
The highest of three ratings that an attorney can receive through the Martindale-Hubbell system, “AV Preeminent” indicates that “a large number of the lawyer’s peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence for their legal knowledge, communication skills and ethical standards,” says the Martindale-Hubbell website.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $112,630
The Hawkeye State might not be a bad place to hang a shingle as a lawyer: The cost of living in Iowa was the 13th-lowest of any U.S. state as of the first quarter of this year, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $113,360
While the average Indiana lawyer’s pay is well below the national average for lawyers — $144,230 per year — the Hoosier State offers affordable living.
The state ranks right above Iowa at No. 12 in the country based on its cost of living. In the state capital of Indianapolis, the median home price is well below $200,000, as we reported in “How Much You Need to Earn to Buy a House in 20 Major U.S. Cities.”
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $113,780
Missouri is another state that makes up for a relatively low average attorney pay in part by offering relatively low living expenses.
As of the first quarter of this year, the state had the fourth-lowest cost of living of any state, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center. Housing costs in Missouri are particularly low compared to the rest of the nation.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $117,100
Unfortunately for the poor in Alabama, the state ranked second-to-last as of 2016 based on the ratio of civil legal aid attorneys to people whose income is below 200% of the federal poverty level, according to the most recent findings of the Justice Index, a project of the National Center for Access to Justice at Fordham Law School.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $118,790
The Sooner State ranks in the middle of the pack in annual average lawyer wages. But that salary will stretch better in Oklahoma than some other states, since as of the first quarter of this year, it offers the third-cheapest cost of living of any state, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $119,330
The Minneapolis law firm Faegre Baker Daniels was recently awarded the 2019 Pro Bono Publico Award from the American Bar Association. In its award announcement, the bar said of the firm:
“Pro bono service is a core value of this firm, as it has a rich tradition of providing legal services to low-income and other vulnerable people to help ensure everyone has equal access to justice. In 2018, lawyers across the firm contributed 38,950 pro bono hours …”
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $119,500
Public defenders in Oregon are often swamped with 100 to 250 cases simultaneously and paid far less than what they could make in private practice and with lighter caseloads, The Oregonian reported in June.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $121,520
The Buckeye State is in the middle of the pack for average attorney pay, but lawyers might be able to save a little more of their paychecks there. Ohio had the 15th-lowest cost of living as measured by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center in the first quarter of 2019.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $121,680
Wages might be decent for lawyers in the Last Frontier, but the cost of living there is high. Alaska ranks No. 45 for its cost of living, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center. Only five states and Washington, D.C., had a higher cost of living as of the first quarter of 2019.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $124,470
The Volunteer State lost a local legal legend earlier this year with the death of 108-year-old James Bass Sr., who at the time was Harvard Law School’s oldest living alumnus. Bass was a former president of the Nashville Bar Association, fought with the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II and served in Tennessee’s House of Representatives and Senate.
22. Rhode Island
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $125,330
It’s a good thing that Rhode Island attorneys are among the better-paid lawyers in the nation, because it’s not cheap to live there. The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center reports that the Ocean State has the 11th-highest cost of living in the country.
21. New Hampshire
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $125,890
To cope with a recent trend of fewer law school enrollees, the University of New Hampshire School of Law is hoping to offer its first online law degree, the Concord Monitor reported in December.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $128,340
Shirley B. Jones, who died in May, always seemed to be first — from first in her class at University of Baltimore’s law school to the first female federal judge in Maryland’s history. Jones, who paid her way through school by working as a stenographer, also was Maryland’s first female assistant attorney general.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $128,920
In addition to the inviting climate, Florida offers attorneys a relatively high income coupled with moderate living expenses. The Sunshine State is in the middle of the pack, at No. 26, for its cost of living as of the first quarter of this year, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $128,930
The Peach State is the ninth-cheapest state to live in, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, but it’s among the top 20 states in annual average lawyer pay.
Moreover, law schools in the state at Emory University and the University of Georgia rank No. 26 and No. 27 in the nation, respectively, according to U.S. News & World Report.
17. North Carolina
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $129,990
Former North Carolina trial lawyer James Gray Robinson recently offered his “Top 10 rules to be a successful lawyer,” in the ABA Journal, a publication of the American Bar Association. Among his tips are understanding that lawyers are admired more for honesty than winning; learning how to control your emotions; and also realizing that “being a lawyer is a gift.”
Robinson has plenty of firsthand experience, having practiced law for 27 years in the Tar Heel State before transitioning into consulting.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $130,450
The Milwaukee Independent reports that immigrants to Wisconsin who had lawyers were more than six times more likely to be allowed to stay in the United States than those without representation. Grant Sovern, board president of the nonprofit Community Immigration Law Center in Madison, says immigrants have the right to challenge deportation in court.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $136,480
The Evergreen State was the first in the nation to have legal technicians, folks who are not lawyers but who are licensed to provide legal services to those who can’t afford to hire attorneys. Formally known as limited license legal technicians, they can help clients who are coping with divorce, child custody and other family law matters.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $138,610
The Pennsylvania Innocence Project is a group of lawyers and others who have helped free several people who were wrongfully convicted of crimes. Earlier this year, the nonprofit organization also started a support group for folks who have been exonerated to help them cope with life after prison.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $138,920
It’s a good thing annual wages for Nevada lawyers are the 13th-highest in the nation, because it’s not a cheap state to live in. Nevada ranks 36th in the nation based on its cost of living as of the first quarter of this year — meaning its cost of living is easily higher than a majority of states — according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.
12. New Jersey
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $139,020
It’s a good thing the average lawyer in New Jersey is relatively well-paid, too. The state ranks No. 42 in the country for its cost of living as of the first quarter of this year, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center. That means that only eight states and Washington, D.C., have a higher cost of living than New Jersey.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $139,180
Attorneys in The Old Dominion have a lot more purchasing power than the average Virginian: Their average annual wage is about $85,000 greater than the state average of $55,310, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $145,750
For years, the State Bar of Arizona turned away people calling to get recommendations for legal representation. Then, in 2018, the bar launched Find-a-Lawyer, a free online platform that connects the public with attorneys.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $147,560
Attorneys in Colorado bring in close to three times as much as the state’s typical worker, on average. The average annual wage across all professions in the state is $55,820, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $150,250
The Lone Star State has become a more lonely one for corporate lawyers. As the Associated Press reported earlier this spring:
“The number of out-of-state law firms that opened new offices in Texas grew significantly in 2018, but the actual number of lawyers working at big corporate firms operating in the state declined last year. Nearly half of all corporate attorneys practicing in Texas now work for a law firm headquartered outside of the state.”
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $152,980
The average annual wage for all types of workers in Illinois is $53,790, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So, the average lawyer in the state is making nearly triple that.
Even better news for lawyers in Illinois is that the Midwestern state boasts a relatively low cost of living, coming in at No. 21, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $153,640
Some Connecticut attorneys have found that telecommuting — rather than being on site at their law offices — means less juggling, less driving, higher morale and stronger lawyer-client relationships.
“While working from home has its disadvantages, the consensus was that the benefits outweighed the drawbacks for lawyers and their employers,” he Connecticut Law Tribune reported earlier this year.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $157,610 (as of 2016, the latest year for which data is available)
The First State offers lawyers the fifth-best average annual lawyer pay in the nation. And workers in the state appear to be doing well in general — unemployment in Delaware is at a 30-year low.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $165,610
It’s a good thing lawyers are so well-paid in Maryland, since it’s an expensive place to live. Only four states and Washington, D.C., had a higher cost of living as of the first quarter of this year, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.
3. New York
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $167,110
Even though the Empire State comes in at No. 3 for annual lawyer pay, that’s not the case for attorneys at the Legal Aid Society in New York, which is the nation’s oldest nonprofit legal services organization.
The New York Times reported in June that the society’s starting salary for law school graduates is $53,582. Saddled with student loan debt, a third of them are moonlighting — even working as food delivery drivers — to try to make ends meet.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $171,550
California lawyers might be the second-best-paid in the nation, but they also have the third-highest cost of living in the country. Only Washington, D.C., and Hawaii are more expensive places to live, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.
1. Washington, D.C.
Average annual wage for a lawyer: $192,530
You’ll have no problem finding a lawyer in the District of Columbia. The American Bar Association reports that there are 56,135 attorneys in the nation’s capital as of 2019 — a 4.4% increase from 2018.
Are you surprised by how much the typical lawyer earns in your state? Sound off in a comment below or on the Money Talks News Facebook page.
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