How Much Do Washington D.C. Lawyers Make?

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on November 11, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

What kind of coin are Washington D.C. lawyers making these days? Call it the spiritual home of lawyers, for the District is packed with some 80,000 attorneys. For an area with a population of 599,657, that's a lot of pinstripes. But is it a lot of dough? Most lawyers know that the stereotype of the Benz-driving, Bluetooth-sporting shark is not the whole story. There are attorneys dedicated (gasp) to public service who make far less than the public might guess. The flip-side is, once you have gone government, the return to private practice can be very welcoming indeed.

The truly big bucks for D.C. lawyers, it comes as no surprise to learn, comes with the big names, both firm name and famous partners, reports The Washingtonian. According to their list of who makes what, big firm partners ring in high, with examples like Wilmer Hale at $1.16 million, Williams & Connolly at $1.18 million or Gibson Dunn & Crutcher at $1.91 million. Major rainmaking partners with recognizable names like former solicitor general Theodore Olson, make even more than the average worker-bee partner at Gibson.

Even summer associates get in on the big bucks, says The Washingtonian. Summers at Hogan Lovells, Covington & Burling, or Skadden pull down more than $3,000 a week.

It is a given that those in public service make less, but the comparisons are interesting. For example, our SCOTUS Chief Justice, John G. Roberts Jr. makes $223,500, with associate justices making $213,900. Deborah K. Chasanow, Chief Justice for the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, makes $174,000; but that is significantly more than Glenn Ivey, State's Attorney, Prince George's County, Va. who earns $124,000.

And, at the bottom of the ready cash totem pole are public defenders, for example in Northern Virginia, who start at a whopping $54,059.

Current public servants who have taken major pay cuts include White House counsel Robert Bauer, who now gets $172,000, compared with the $958,788 he made as a partner at Perkins Coie. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder gets $186,600, compared with the $2.1 million he earned at Covington & Burling in 2008.

Before you pack your bags to be a D.C. lawyer though, remember, this is not for free. Big bucks mean big hours. Make sure you want to do the time if you want to get the prime (money, that is).

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