Lawyer Pay

Difficult Choices: World Health, or Type A Person in a Power Suit

The gap between law firm and public interest salaries is growing, posing difficult choices for new graduates of top law schools.

The choice becomes all the more important as law students take on increasing debt, the Washington Post reports in a story that focuses on the dilemma facing Beirne Roose-Snyder, a Georgetown University law student.

Salary and debt figures from the ABA and NALP illustrate the dilemma. Private law students in 2005-06 borrowed an average of $83,200 while public law students borrowed $54,500. The median starting salary is $40,000 for lawyers at nongovernmental or public interest organizations and $48,000 for government law jobs. In private practice, the median salary is $95,000.

Making the choice all the more difficult is timing. Big law firms typically make offers as the third year of school begins, while public interest and government agencies don’t extend their offers until later in the year. A student who passes up a big firm offer is gambling that a public interest job will come through.

Roose-Snyder had to weigh whether to accept an offer from a Chicago law firm paying a $145,000 salary or whether to wait and hope for a public service job in her area of interest, global health. She accepted the law firm job, despite some concerns by her and her husband.

“I think it would reinforce a part of my personality that neither of us like very much,” she told the newspaper before making her decision. “The Type A, traditional, ambitious person … in a power suit.”

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