The field of law is incredibly diverse, and not all attorneys are created equal. Public sector versus private sector careers can make a substantial difference in what a lawyer makes each year. Even within each arena of law, the pay scale can vary wildly.
Corporate attorneys working for major law firms can earn five to six times what their counterparts in small firms might make, but other boutique firms can compete with the salaries of Biglaw. The highest-paid legal fields today include some expected niches, and a few you might not have considered.
Highest-Paying Legal Fields
Geographic location, experience levels, and market demand all play a significant role in what an attorney will make in their chosen field of expertise. If the big paycheck is the reason you endured law school, then one of the following fields.
1. IP Law
Intellectual property law, which refers to anything that originates in the human mind, is a demanding and fast-paced field of law. In the current economic and creative climate, Patents, trademarks, and copyright protection are hot-button topics.
IP law is different in that intellectual property cases must often be proven without hard evidence. This means that the above-par persuasive arguments and knowledge of a fast-changing field of law are crucial to winning cases.
Given that a significant part of the scope of intellectual property is technological innovations and inventions, a solid understanding of technology and how it interacts with human behavior is a necessity. These attorneys have to understand far more than the letter of the law. They also have to have an in-depth understanding of how technology is created, implemented, bought, sold, and traded.
2. Corporate Law
Companies employ corporate lawyers to handle every level of transactions and advise on a range of issues, from contractual obligations to legal proceedings. Corporate lawyers also frequently advise on issues related to taxes.
A corporate lawyer, in many ways, needs to be a jack-of-all-trades. Securities, taxation, contractual law, corporate buyouts, takeovers, and employment law might all fall within the scope of what is expected from a corporate lawyer.
Corporate lawyers can be found in Biglaw firms, smaller firms that work with a handful of high-end clients, or they may serve as in-house counsel for an individual company.
3. Trial Lawyers
Civil trial lawyers are among the highest earners in the legal field if they handle high-profile and high-stakes cases. Solo practitioners, those who practice criminal law and public interest attorneys, also fight their battles in the courtroom, but rarely make the income that civil trial lawyers focusing on big cases can make.
Trial lawyers need a wealth of skills to be successful in the courtroom. Trial lawyers must be adept at managing controversy, conflict, and advocate for their clients. Before and during a trial, long hours are the norm and not the exception.
Legal skills and procedural knowledge are crucial to success, and these attorneys must also have strong analytical reasoning capabilities. Interpersonal skills are also crucial to communicate effectively with clients, opposing counsel, judges, witnesses, and any other parties involved in a case.
4. Medical Malpractice and Healthcare Law
A broad field of law that can encompass everything from personal injury attorneys who specialize in medical malpractice to attorneys who serve on policy boards. Medical law is quickly growing in size and scope as the medical field continues to grow at an unprecedented rate.
Medical lawyers may work for hospitals, insurance companies, and health care clinics, providing advice and legal guidance about their responsibilities to patients. These same attorneys may also defend a medical institution from malpractice claims.
On the other side of the coin are those attorneys who take on these same institutions to file malpractice claims on behalf of their clients. Patients can suffer catastrophic results from medical malpractice and these attorneys help them win the settlements they deserve when the worst happens. Medical attorneys are among the highest-paid legal professionals.
5. Real Estate Law
Attorneys that specialize in real estate help clients in both commercial and residential real estate transactions. Property development is a lucrative subspecialty of this field.
Real estate transactions are notoriously complex, and meticulous attention to detail is a must to succeed in this arena of law. Though real estate law can be a lucrative practice in any geographic location, the attorneys who make the most tend to be those who specialize in commercial real estate in traditionally high-end locations.
Whatever the field of law, some attorneys can earn nine-figure incomes, while others struggle to earn a living wage. As in other professional fields, skill, motivation, and connections all play a crucial role in the earning capacity of an attorney. That said, the income is not what distinguishes great lawyers from mediocre ones.
Passion for what they do, genuine concern for the people they represent, and a willingness for personal sacrifice play a role in the success of an attorney. Many great attorneys make modest salaries using their education and passion for serving the public good.