Recently, CNNMoney did a report on careers that they identified as "The Best Jobs In America." Number 18 on the list was "Lawyer." The report provides useful data with regard to the median and "top" lawyer salaries for "experienced" attorneys. In determining "experienced," it looks like they exclude all first year lawyers, exclude a certain percentage of years lawyers 2-7 years out, and then include all lawyer salaries for those at least 7 years out.
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The median salary for an experienced lawyer was $115,000. The article also identified the 90th percentile of pay as the "Top Pay" of $262,000/year.
These numbers actually mesh pretty well with the numbers newly graduated lawyers report to NALP. As we previously discussed, the average starting salary for a new lawyer that was reported to NALP was $72,000/year - although the true average may be in the range of $60,000-$70,000.
For example, if you consider that a new lawyer's salary rises about 5%/year during the first 10 years of practice, then a starting salary of $72,000 would rise to about $117,000/year in 10 years. That seems to be generally in line with reality based on the experiences of my classmates.
Also, the median salary number of $115,000 may initially seem high, but the number will be greatly reduced by taxes. Also, remember that you will be making loan payments that will be quite high - and can easily reach $3,000/month or $36,000/year. For example, using a simple tax calculator, we find that the taxes owed on the $115,000/year salary are $23,300. That knocks the take-home pay to $91,700. Toss in a $3,000/month loan repayment and your spendable take-home pay becomes $55,700/year. That's still a respectable sum, but it's not living large.
Also, recognize that even among the experienced lawyers, only 10% are making $262,000/year or more. Also recognize that taxes are starting to really hurt at this level - you would be paying about $69,000/year in taxes.