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Different fields of practice make for different attorney salaries

Stereotypes abound for the salaries of lawyers in various cities, but the fields in which they practice has as much to do with it as location.

Stereotypes abound for lawyers in certain parts of the U.S., not the least of which is the stereotype for how much money they make. The salaries that New York lawyers make are the standards for many new lawyers seeking to be the most profitable in their new lines of work. But experts on the subject insist that the question, “How much does a lawyer in New York make?” is not specific enough to encourage an accurate answer.

Attorney Arkady Bukh, New York federal defense attorney and the founder of Bukh Law Firm, says that different forms of practice also dictate how much lawyers are paid. Criminal practice is one of the most lucrative:

“Criminal practice is a known ‘high paying’ practice because it's about individuals in trouble that pay cash to get them out of trouble. They pay more to a criminal attorney who is well established and known or who had high profile cases. In contingency world, personal injury is the leader: mesothelioma lawyers are deep pocketed enough to be able to pay Google up to $400 per a click to their website (which does not even guarantee a call). On the other hand, they have a proven way of getting compensation with a minimal level of expenses, so at the end of the day they can still afford this.”

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Also, of course, skill and drive have a lot to do with it. Bukh says that lawyers with mediocre grades and schooling will necessarily earn a mediocre salary. But this is not to say that location does not play a big role in how much a lawyer makes. As the median annual income of an attorney is around $110,590 according to the U.S. Department of Labor, compensation naturally differs from state to state and city to city. 

Bukh says that the larger firms also pay more than smaller ones. He notes that — while the average salary for an attorney in New York stands at about $160,000 a year — criminal practices still bring in more compensation, and salaries can reach about $350,000 a year depending on the field of practice. Lawyers in government, environment, and bankruptcy bring in some of the lower salaries.

But the field is an ever-shifting one. And regulation changes alter the need for attorneys in different realms of work. With changing needs in various industries, so changes the needs of the clients and their legal staff. Bukh points out:

“The market is constantly changing which changes the legal industry itself. Increasing marketing costs lead to increasing fees and salaries. Regulation provides extra hurdles to enter a particular area of practice thus increasing the value of those who are there already.”

Contributing Author

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Juliana Kenny

Juliana Kenny is a contributor to InsideCounsel.com, covering a range of topics including patent litigation, conflict mineral laws, executive compensation, and antitrust regulation. Juliana earned B.A.s...

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