Lawyer Pay

Prosecutor pay isn't keeping up with inflation, even as some case backlogs grow, study author says

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The average starting salary for prosecutors in 31 larger cities was $68,506 at the start of 2020, according to a survey by a Lafayette College professor in conjunction with the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

There was wide variation, however, according to the Prosecutor Workplace and Compensation Study by Lafayette College economics professor Adam Biener. Starting pay for nonsupervisory prosecutors ranged from below $50,000 to above $100,000.

The average salary for all nonsupervising attorneys was $91,474, with amounts ranging from below $60,000 to above $150,000.

The pay has not kept up with the rate of inflation, Biener told Lafayette News. Yet prosecutors are increasingly expected to oversee specialized dockets, deal with sophisticated technology and review police body camera footage.

“What may originally have been boxes of paperwork—transcripts of calls and emails—now involves the review of hours and hours of camera footage,” Biener told Lafayette News. “And these things have to be delivered to the defense in a timely way.”

The study sought responses from 50 prosecution offices whose jurisdictions contain the most populous U.S. cities. Thirty-one offices responded. Among the offices that did not respond, the reason most often given was insufficient staff time to complete the survey. The survey was taken between September 2020 and January 2021.

The average number of cases awaiting trial at the start of 2020 was just under 9,000, according to 14 offices that responded to the question. Eight of those offices responded to a second question about case backlogs because of court disruptions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to their responses, the average number of cases awaiting trial after the disruptions was 14,056. That’s an increase of 62%.

“While we caution against interpreting these as estimates for broader levels of case backlog nationwide,” the study said, “these instances indicate that pandemic disruptions have had significant effects on case backlogs in at least some prosecutors’ offices that manage tens of thousands of cases in the most populated counties in the country.”

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