Lawyer Pay

Lawyers' salaries slipping compared to other professions, data indicates

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The median salaries of information systems managers, pharmacists and nurse anesthetists are now higher than the median salary for lawyers, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The figures released in May show that the median annual salary for lawyers is $118,160. But adjusting for inflation, that salary figure has decreased 2.9 percent from 2006, Ohio State University law professor Deborah J. Merritt writes at Law School Cafe. The data tracks only salaried positions and therefore does not include sole practitioner or law firm equity partner compensation.

In 2006, only six occupational groups had a higher median salaries than lawyers—chief executives, physicians, dentists, air traffic controllers, podiatrists and engineering managers, Merritt writes. In 2016, salaried lawyers’ median pay was also lower than that of nurse anesthetists, marketing managers, petroleum engineers, airline pilots, flight engineers, pharmacists, financial managers, natural sciences managers, and advertising or sales managers.

That’s a significant issue for attracting law students, Merritt writes, and it could influence how much tuition applicants will be willing to pay.

“No one should go to law school just to make money. Wise counselors have been saying that for years, and it’s even more true today than it was 10 years ago,” Merritt writes.

At the 25th percentile, inflation-adjusted lawyer salaries declined 6.5 percent from $82,935 (in 2016 dollars) in 2006 to $77,580 in 2016, Merritt reported. Salaries also slid 5.2 percent at the 10th percentile from $60,004 (in 2016 dollars) in 2006 to $56,910 in 2016.

The data estimates that there were 619,530 salaried lawyers in 2016, and it estimates an increase of 9,600 lawyer jobs between 2015 and 2016. However, between 2012 and 2014, the increase in the number of positions was above 10,600 each year, according to Merritt.

“The trend since 2012, in other words, is downward,” Merritt writes. “The number of salaried jobs for lawyers is still growing, but it’s not clear how fast the pace will be in coming years.”

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