Los Angeles is filled with attorneys representing actors and athletes, those handling high profile divorces, prenuptial agreements and domestic abuse cases, and Hollywood paints a not-so-realistic version of how much money these attorneys make.
How much any attorney makes varies greatly based on a number of relevant factors including what kind of law the attorney practices, the size and most importantly, their education and experience, their performance and track record and most importantly, the location of their firm. A Los Angeles based attorney will make more than an attorney practicing in rural Idaho the same way an entertainment attorney practicing in Beverly Hills will make more than a personal injury attorney practicing in Bakersfield.
According to a 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, in May 2012 the median annual income of all wage-and-salaried attorneys, nationally, was about $113,530 per year / $54.58 per hour.
A 2015 Glassdoor.com report lists the average salary for a lawyer in the Los Angeles area is $141,560 and the hourly rate is about $45.78 where as Salary.com reports the average annual salary for an attorney in Los Angeles is $92,337. The reason for the conflicting data is that these numbers vary greatly based on the size of the firm and the attorney’s experience.
A 2014 NALP Bulletin reports the national average salary for first-year associates and how it varies based on the size of the firm. In 2014, the average salary for a first-year attorney at a law firm with 25 attorneys was about $68,000, while the salary at a firm of 50 attorneys jumped to $105,000. On the higher end, a first-year associate at a firm with 250+ attorneys is paid $135,000.
The 2014 NALP bulletin also reported the average starting salary for a first-year associate in firms of 250+ attorneys in Los Angeles was $145,000 – that is $10,000 more than the national average. This is slightly less than the average starting salary in New York City, which is reported at $160,000, nearly $25,000 more than the national average.
An October 2014 article posted by the NALP.org looks specifically to intellectual property attorneys to show the increase in the median salaries with IP entry-level attorneys:
The 2014 Associate Salary Survey gathered information on salaries for intellectual property (IP) lawyers, though that information was more limited, and in large part reported by firms of more than 250 lawyers. The information reported suggests that, compared with firms of this size as a whole, those with IP lawyers pay an entry-level salary of $160,000 far more often. When IP salaries at these firms are compared with firms of more than 250 lawyers as a whole, the median and prevailing salary is $160,000 instead of $135,000 and the median is about $70,000 higher among senior associates.
This information is to be kept in perspective. Remember, living in rural Iowa costs a whole lot less than it does to live in Los Angeles and the cost to do business and the cost of living is going to be much more in a big city. And no matter where you practice, an attorney with any experience is always going to make more than a teacher with 40 years experience. Your education and training will keep you in a higher salary bracket regardless of your location.