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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, February 25, 2011

What Lawyers Earn (by County)

Bill Henderson (Indiana-Bloomington) and the ABA provide a database on What Lawyer's Earn:

In this, the first installment of a periodic series, we look at the geography of lawyer salaries, showing where the jobs are and what they pay. Using actual salary data reported to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on employed lawyers—whether they are associates or government attorneys or corporate counsel—we've mapped out average lawyer pay by county.

ABA 2  

Highest Lawyer Wages (mean wage, # lawyers, # public companies, # law schools):
  1. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara CA ($192,020, 4,130, 189, 2)
  2. San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City CA ($167,130, 9.790, 149, 3)
  3. New York-White Plains-Wayne NY-NJ ($166,130, 51,580, 580, 9)
  4. Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine CA ($157,950, 6,380, 206, 2)
  5. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale CA ($155,120, 25,350, 359, 4)
  6. Modesto CA ($153,540, 530, 1, 0)
  7. Wilmington DE-MD-NJ ($153,520, 2,120, 25, 1)
  8. Washington DC-MD-VA ($152,230, 37,970, 146, 7)
  9. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura CA ($150,850, 1,000, 31, 1)
  10. Chattanooga TN-GA ($148,350, 710, 10, 0)
Note that the payroll data do not include equity partners and solo practitioners.

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Are these winsorized means? If not, I think they should be. The lawyers earning million dollar salaries have very little relevance to most other lawyers.

Posted by: Luke H. | Feb 25, 2011 10:21:06 PM

This is one of the reasons that the "Van Zandt theory" (you have to make X-dollars per year in order to pay for law school) is so misleading. There are a lot of places where you can make much less . . . and those are often the places that need the most lawyers.

Posted by: mike livingston | Feb 26, 2011 6:31:24 AM

I may be missing something (I haven’t gone through all of the data sets individually yet) *but*:

1) I am getting about 290k lawyers total for the top 35 markets.

2) The article tells me that these 35 markets account for about 65% of all “lawyer” jobs.

3) That implies there are about 445k “lawyer” jobs *total* in the US.

4) The methodology indicates about a 75% response rate to the BLS survey sample. So let’s be very generous and put total “lawyer” jobs at about 593k *total*.

5) The ABA’s own internal legal census puts the number of lawyers in excess of 1 million.

6) The ABA-vetted law schools (honorable lot, they) have been graduating between 35k and 45K students *each year* for some time.

7) Assuming an average of 40k grads per year, with a working career of 40 years (25 to 65), then the steady state level of the profession is 1.6 *million* law degree holders.

8) Chasing after 600k jobs. Less than 1 job for every 2 law grads.
What am I missing?

This aggregate data suggests that the scambloggers have it correct and that the law schools have been engaging in massive hiring statistic fraud.

Posted by: cas127 | Feb 26, 2011 2:36:55 PM

The figures should also be adjusted for the cost of living.

Posted by: yahoo | Feb 26, 2011 4:15:13 PM

More recent data from the *ABA* itself:

Approximately 1.2 *million* licensed lawyers circa 2008:

Approximately 1.4 *million* JDs or LLBs hawked since 1970 (encompassing 40 years up to 2010 - a 40 year career):

(More ABA data on the profession at

Applicants - weigh these numbers against the 600k or so total attorney jobs the most recent *ABA* analysis suggests exist.

And weigh the fact that the *average* law student incurs between $66k and $100k in *non-bankruptcy-dischargeable* debt to get his *50%* chance at getting *any* job as a lawyer.

A job paying...what exactly?

No $1000 per hour for 99% (of the 50% employed) lawyers.

This is probably the most grotesque misallocation of human capital ever incurred by a free society.

Posted by: cas127a | Feb 26, 2011 5:53:54 PM

So the mean wage for a lawyer is higher in Chattanooga than Chicago or Philadelphia? Perhaps there is a problem with this survey...

Posted by: hw | Feb 27, 2011 6:42:38 AM


"Note that the payroll data do not include equity partners and solo practitioners."

Posted by: anon | Feb 28, 2011 9:37:06 AM