Lawyer Salaries

Houston Chronicle reporter Mary Flood has a blog entitled “Legal Trade: A blog about lawyering” (is “to lawyer” a verb anywhere but inTexas?); today’s post is about lawyers’ salaries in Texas. (Thanks to Luke Gilman for the heads-up.)

The median salary for all Texas lawyers is $113,500. The post links to a story in today’s Chronicle about the reality of lawyers’ salaries — “first-year graduates from the three Houston law schools make as little as $30,000 a year and have a median salary of around $70,000.”

If you have a job making the median $70,000 in salary a year right out of law school, you’re doing pretty well for yourself.

If you’re working for someone else and making $30,000 a year in Houston right out of law school, stop pitying yourself, get off your butt and hang out a shingle.

If you’re self-employed and making $30,000 a year right in Houston right out of law school, you’re doing okay. You can look forward to infinite upside potential.

Contrast all of that with three big Houston law firms “announcing that they’re raising starting pay to $160,000.” In Houston, where the cost of living is less than half of New York’s.
Here’s a news flash for new law school graduates: unless you had a career in which you were earning six figures before law school, you’re not worth $160,000 a year. If you’re one of the few being paid $160,000 a year by a firm, the clients are getting ripped off. An hour of your time is not worth the $240-plus that they’re paying for it.

But it’s not too late to look for honest work.

0 responses to “Lawyer Salaries”

  1. I’ve never done civil work, so I don’t know how much ‘padding for partners’ there is when 1st year attorney’s work is billed, but your next to last paragraph raises a question in my mind.

    If a law firm pays $160K to a first year, they are paying him $80/hr, assuming he hits 40 billable hours per week, and takes two week vacations. I don’t know if that’s a reasonable estimate of the amount of billable hours a first year civil lawyer bills, and if that needs adjustment, let me know.

    Are you saying then that the partners (and overhead, of course) add another $160 per hour to the client’s bill? No wonder people ‘hate’ lawyers.

    Makes me rethink that “I only went to law school to be a criminal defense lawyer” stance lol. (OK, not really!)


  2. Jamie,

    I think your math is right — about 2000 billable hours a year — and that is my understanding of the economics of it. I believe that the rule of thumb is 1/3 to the associate, 1/3 to overhead, and 1/3 to the partners.

    I may be off by 30 bucks or so an hour. this chart shows first-year associates in Houston firms with 100+ lawyers billing $208 an hour in 2006. There’s no breakdown showing how much the firms paying $160k a year are billing for their associates, but we’ve got to presume it’s at least that much.

    (This chart, by the way, shows the same associates billing an average of 38.2 hours a week. 38.2 X 52 = 1986.4 hours per year.)

  3. I am a new(er) attorney and it is disheartening to see that brand new attorneys who have barely passed the bar are earning much more than I am, despite my trial and advocacy experience! I found a cool site that talks about salary negotiation and has some other interesting resources for attorneys:

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