Figures show Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel was paid £493,000 from the public purse for acting in cases arising from clinical negligence, personal injury and child abuse.
According to a table of top earning barristers published by the Government today, Ms Gumbel beat her nearest male counterpart by just £1,000.
Ms Gumbel, considered one of the best barristers in her field, earned the money in civil legal aid cases during 2005 to 2006 while Jeremy Rosenblatt received £492,000.
Two other women were in the top 10 earners. The 10 received almost £4 million in civil legal aid between them, the lowest paid of whom got £306,000.
The figures will reignite the debate about the huge earnings that can be made from publicly-funded work.
Conservative MP John Baron, who tabled the question in the Commons which produced the figures, said: “This shows we have one of the most generous legal aid systems in the world. Doctors and nurses wouldn’t have a hope of getting even close to these sort of salaries.”