Which Law Jobs Pay the Most?

FT Contributor
A lawyer stands crossed-armed next to a gavel and a balance scale.

If you’re considering a career in law, you already understand it’s a field that brings in a lot of income. While any career in law is fruitful, like any profession, there are some positions that allow you to earn more than others. Below, we’ll discuss seven of the top-paying careers in law. Each position is extremely competitive and most of the time, income is based on experience. Learn more about the highest paying law jobs.

Table of Contents

The Top 7 Highest-Paid Law Jobs

1. Chief Legal Officers

  • Responsibilities: Chief legal officers lead legal departments of large corporations. Often, they work for publicly traded companies. Overseeing a team of in-house attorneys, they are experts in minimizing legal risk, advising a company’s officers and board members about litigation risks and regulatory issues.
  • Average pay: $201,516 annually according to PayScale.
  • Jobs available: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of lawyers is projected to grow 6% from 2018 to 2028.
  • Required licenses or certifications: A Juris Doctor degree, or a law degree, and an applicable state license to practice law.
  • Required schooling: A bachelor’s degree in business law is recommended. Courses on cyber law, international law, argumentation theory, public speaking, and communication will be beneficial for this career path. In law school, students should choose an area of legal focus specific to business, such as intellectual property law or corporate finance. 

2. Corporate Lawyers

  • Responsibilities: Corporate lawyers advise businesses on their legal rights, responsibilities, and obligations. This includes matters big and small, from acquiring other companies to establishing internet start-ups. They are also responsible for drafting and negotiating contracts, advising business leaders on governance and operations, and assisting with the reporting of financial matters.  
  • Average pay: $107,314.
  • Jobs available: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of lawyers is projected to grow 6% from 2018 to 2028.
  • Required licenses or certifications: Corporate lawyers must pass the bar exam in the state where they wish to practice as well as a mandatory ethical exam to receive a license.
  • Required schooling: Four years of undergraduate law followed by a Juris Doctor degree. Students should focus on classes that relate to business or finance.

3. Intellectual Property (IP) Lawyers

  • Responsibilities: Intellectual property lawyers protect a person or organization’s ideas, including patents, copyrights, and trademarks. These lawyers protect inventions, designs, and artwork, and can also secure assets like real estate. Intellectual property lawyers help their clients protect their intellectual capital by licensing, negotiating settlements, and conducting due diligence.
  • Average pay: $128,785.
  • Jobs available: The employment of lawyers is projected to grow 6% from 2018 to 2028.
  • Required licenses or certifications: Intellectual property lawyers must pass their state bar exam and register with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  • Required schooling: A bachelor’s degree in a scientific, mathematical or related field, followed by law school with courses like drafting IP licenses, biotech patent law, copyrights, and international intellectual property. 

4. Patent Lawyer

  • Responsibilities: Patent lawyers work with intellectual property law and specialize in patents. They often represent corporations or inventors during the application process, obtaining protection for their client’s intellectual property. Patent lawyers examine inventions and guide clients through the application process, serving as litigators to protect the rights to client inventions.
  • Average pay: $137,368.
  • Jobs available: From 2018 to 2028, the employment of lawyers is projected to grow 6%.
  • Required licenses or certifications: Patent lawyers must pass the bar examin and obtain a license in the state where they plan to practice. The patent bar exam may also be required.
  • Required schooling: A bachelor’s degree in a technical, scientific, or engineering field, depending on the type of patent work they want to practice. After that, a law school degree covering topics like contract law, torts, and constitutional law. A certification program with courses in intellectual property and patents and trademarks is also recommended.

5. Criminal Defense Lawyer

  • Responsibilities: Criminal defense lawyers defend those who are accused of committing a crime. They may work for local, state, or federal government or be employed by a private firm.
  • Average pay$79,161.
  • Jobs available: The employment of lawyers is expected to grow 6% from 2018 to 2028.
  • Required licenses or certifications: Criminal defense lawyers must pass the bar exam in the state where they wish to practice.
  • Required schooling: A bachelor’s degree in any field, as long as research, investigative, and communication skills are developed. This is followed by three years of law school studying criminal defense law.

6. Tax Attorney

  • Responsibilities: Working with individuals and businesses, tax attorneys help with tax issues, estate planning, and suing the IRS. They can also serve as consultants for businesses when contracts are being drafted.
  • Average pay: $101,583.
  • Jobs available: The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 6% growth in lawyer jobs from 2018 to 2028.
  • Required licenses or certifications: Tax attorneys must pass the bar exam in their state.
  • Required schooling: A Bachelor of Science in Business Administration or an accounting degree is beneficial when pursuing this career path. After that, a three-year law school degree with electives like international taxation and financial services is required.

7. Trial Lawyer

  • Responsibilities: Trial lawyers are commonly depicted on television and in movies. After meeting with clients, trial lawyers argue cases on their behalf before judges and juries.
  • Average pay: $102,576.
  • Jobs available: An estimated 6% growth is expected in lawyer jobs from 2018 to 2028.
  • Required licenses or certifications: You must pass an ethics exam and the bar exam to become a trial lawyer.
  • Required schooling: A bachelor’s degree with coursework in contract negotiation, criminal and courtroom law, and ethics is required, in addition to a three-year law degree.

Considerations Before Entering a Law Career

Competition begins as soon as you show interest in attending law school. Obtaining a career in the law field that interests you can be difficult, as most firms only choose the best of the best. Pay is based on relevant experience, so you may start out earning less.

Ultimately, job availability depends on your area of study and the market at the time. According to Above The Law, the National Association of Law Placement stated in 2017 that there was an 8.3% unemployment rate among recent law school graduates. Conversely, the BLS reports expected growth in the legal community in the next ten years.

What Is the Bar Exam and How Does It Affect My Career in Law?

The bar exam is a standardized test that assesses the skills and knowledge required to become a lawyer. It consists of three parts: the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT).

The MBE assesses your ability to apply fundamental legal principles, exercise legal reasoning, and analyze fact patterns. The MEE tests your communication and writing ability, and the MPT assesses your lawyering skills in realistic mock-trials. You must pass this exam to practice law.

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