How Much Do Lawyers Really Make in New York City?
Asking how much a lawyer in New York makes is almost like asking, “How long is a piece of string.” The question doesn’t contain sufficient information to give a definitive answer.
The mediocre attorney who graduates with mediocre grades from a mediocre school will get a mediocre job with a mediocre firm and can expect to make mediocre money. Rarely will they get more than one-third of their billing rate, which seldom is over $100 and hour.
To appropriate a real estate mantra, it’s all about location, location, location. Any attorney in New York, regardless of school and grades, is apt to make more money than a small town lawyer in Iowa; a counselor with a large firm on Wall Street will make more than a one-man practice in Flatbush.
According to a recent US Department of Labor report, the median annual income of all wage-and-salaried attorneys, nationally, was roughly $110,590. Again, the size of the firm along with the location can make a big difference.
Typically a family lawyer in a medium size firm in New York City can earn from $100,000 – $200,000 a year according to the DOL report. Compensation can go higher, up to $350,000 — or even greater — depending on the area of law in which the attorney practices. Lawyers in private practice specializing in criminal law tend to have higher salaries while attorneys in other areas such as government, environmental, bankruptcy come in on the lower end of the scale.
Lawyers practicing at larger firms often make larger salaries than those working for smaller firms. The average salary for an associate in New York currently stands at $160,000 a year.
All law firms in New York have increased their first-year associate salaries since the mid-1990s.
First- year associates in New York came home with $85,000 in 1996 according to The Association for Legal Career Professionals. New York was the first market to hit the $160,000 mark for first-year associates, doing so in 2007. The figure stayed steady until 2011, the last year reviewed in the study.
Some first-year associates at larger firms make more and experienced lawyers in the firm can take home several million a year. Partners at the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz make, on average, $4.9 million a year according to the American Lawyer Magazine.
Wachtell handles complex corporate deals and has a stellar reputation among lawyers. A survey by Vault Law in 2012, found that Wachtell was America’s most prestigious law firm according to the 12,000 lawyers surveyed.
Partners at Wachtell make more money than younger lawyers with the firm, but associates do well also, usually bringing in anywhere from $164,000 to $204,554 according to the website, Glass Door.
Is any attorney, regardless of their field of expertise, worth the cash they receive? Yes. Arguably, they could be considered to be underpaid when viewed in light of the education requirements and the frequent life-or-death decisions they deal with, often daily.
To put an attorney’s income in perspective, a surgeon with twenty years of experience earns exponentially more than a lawyer with the same number of years, and they both pale in comparison to any of the New York Yankees.
Keep in mind, no victorious defendant in criminal court ever complained that they overpaid their attorney.
About the Author
Arkady Bukh, Esq. is a veteran New York criminal attorney who focuses on high profile white collar crime and Federal cases. Arkady is also an author published in Law360, NJ Law Journal, Daily Journal, Enrepreneur, Nolo, and many other legal media. Arkady can be reach at Bukh Law Firm, 14 Wall St, New York NY 10005, (212) 729-1632, or visit his website at www.nyccriminallawyer.com.