Public Interest Lawyer Salaries Start at Less Than $50K - Greedy Associates
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Public Interest Lawyer Salaries Start at Less Than $50K

Public interest lawyers’ salaries seem to be rising slowly, but they continue to lag far behind the pay of BigLaw associates, a new report finds.

Lawyers looking to land jobs in public-interest fields — for example, legal aid organizations and groups that focus on a legal mission like civil rights or social justice — can expect starting salaries in the low- to mid-$40,000 range, according to the National Association for Law Placement. Local prosecutors and public defenders make a bit more, about $50,000 a year.

Compare that to the median starting salary for BigLaw associates, which now stands at $145,000, according to NALP’s annual survey.

That BigLaw figure is actually down from recent years, when starting associates raked in about $160,000 a year.

But for many new lawyers, a successful legal career isn’t all about the money (though higher salaries would certainly help pay off those huge student loans which can lead to bankruptcy).

Instead, a desire to help the underserved, or to dive head-first into the criminal justice system, continue to draw new grads to lower-paying public-service professions — though lower-paying doesn’t necessarily mean less competition when it comes to applying for jobs.

Here are the salary breakdowns for public interest law fields in 2012, according to NALP:

Legal Services Attorneys

  • Median entry-level salary: $42,800 (up from $40,000 in 2008)
  • With 11-15 years of experience: $64,900 (up from $60,000 in 2008)

Public Interest Organizations (e.g., civil rights groups)

  • Median entry-level salary: $45,000 (up from $41,000 in 2008)
  • With 11-15 years of experience: $75,000 (up from $69,200 in 2008)

Local Prosecutors

  • Median entry-level salary: $50,000 (up from $45,700 in 2008)
  • With 11-15 years of experience: $76,700 (down from $77,500 in 2008)

Public Defenders

  • Median entry-level salary: $50,500 (up from $47,400 in 2008)
  • With 11-15 years of experience: $78,600 (up from $75,000 in 2008)

For those seeking work as a public interest lawyer, check out these career options. You may also want to consider a public interest fellowship which can help bridge the gap between jobs.

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