Lawyers Can Expect Salary Growth in the Year Ahead

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 12, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

After stagnating for some time, attorney salaries have started to climb in recent years. And that trend should continue in 2017, according to a report by Robert Half Legal. The staffing agency recently released its 2017 Salary Guide and reports that legal professional salaries are expected to rise by an average of 3.6 percent in the coming years.

But, while a rising tide lifts all boats, not every boat is lifted equally. What sort of bump you can expect depends a lot on your workplace, experience, location, and more. Here's how the year ahead might look for you.

Good News for BigLaw and Experienced Lawyers, Alright News for Others

Robert Half Legal came to the 3.6 percent increase by looking at the salary data for the thousands of placements the staffing agency makes every year. But the increase, like lawyer salaries themselves, isn't spread equally.

The attorneys likely to do see the most salary growth in the year ahead are BigLaw associates and lawyers with four or more years of experience, according to Robert Half. A first year associate at a small firm, for example, can expect to make $56,500 - $82,000, a 2.8 percent increase over the prior year. Their BigLaw colleagues, however, can expect $123,750 - $151,750, a 6.2 percent increase. (Another great illustration of the bimodal distribution of attorney salaries.)

Size isn't all that matters, though. Attorneys with four to nine years of experience who work in small to midsize firms are expected to have the largest salary growth, an increase of 6.9 percent that will bring their salaries to $114-750 - $183,000. And lawyers with 10 years or more of experience are also doing well, with salaries expected to increase by 5.9 percent in small firms and 5.1 percent in large ones.

What It Means for You

Of course, as with everything else, your mileage may vary. Not only do salaries vary by firm size and experience level, they have significant geographic differences as well. An attorney can expect to earn 40 percent more than average in San Francisco, for example, while a lawyer in Memphis, Tennessee would earn 5 percent less than average.

Hiring, too, isn't even. Firms are focusing on experienced laterals, rather than new attorneys, according to the report, though increased on campus recruitment is resulting in more opportunities for students.

Those knowledgeable about litigation or commercial law are well positioned to take advantage of hiring trends. Respondents to Robert Half's survey listed those two practice areas as the most likely to experience hiring growth over the next two years.

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