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Public interest law salaries stuck at 2004 levels

NALP data shows pay disparity between public sector and law firms

For the past few months, the NALP, the Association for Legal Career Professionals, has been delivering some bad news. This summer, the organization reported that starting salaries for recent law school graduates were on the decline. And last month, the NALP released data showing that the median salary for first-year associates at large law firms has dropped to $145,000, a figure that was last seen in 2007.

The NALP released more sobering statistics last week. According to the latest figures, salaries for government and public interest law jobs have barely increased since 2004. The median entry-level salary for a legal services lawyer is about $43,000, and a legal services lawyer with between 11 and 15 years of experience earns a median salary of about $65,000. Meanwhile, the median entry-level salary for public defenders is about $50,500, and the median salary for a public defense lawyer with between 11 and 15 years is $78,600. Local prosecuting attorneys earn a starting salary of $50,000, and they earn $77,000 when they have between 11 and 15 years of experience. And public interest organization lawyers who handle civil rights issues earn a starting salary of $45,000; those with 11 to 15 years of experience earn $75,000.

The report found that, based on data from 2004, salaries at public sector and public interest organizations have only increased between $9,000 and $12,000 since 2004.

“During the last eight years, most public interest and public sector lawyer salaries have just kept pace with inflation. Most public interest starting salaries have risen between 23 percent (public interest organizations) and 29 percent (public defenders), while the consumer price index has risen about 22 percent during the same period,” James Leipold, NALP’s executive director, said in a press release. “Meanwhile, during the same period, the cost of a legal education and the average amount of law student loan debt have both risen at a much higher pace, which means that despite favorable changes in the federal loan repayment options available to law school graduates working in the public interest, there are still significant economic disincentives at play as law students consider whether or not to pursue public interest legal careers.”

Read the Wall Street Journal Law Blog for more insight.

For more InsideCounsel stories about compensation and jobs in the legal field, read:

Median first-year associate salaries drop to $145,000

Median starting salaries plummet

2011 law school grads face worst job market in 18 years

Law school debt estimates exceed $200,000 for class of 2015

Judge tosses suit against New York Law School for misleading jobs data

2012 in-house compensation report

Contributing Author

Ashley Post

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