It’s a simple question to ask which are the best fields of law for lawyers to work in that offer high prospects and big fees. LawFuel has been asked frequently, and we look at the high growth legal practice areas, including 6 law practice winners.
Obviously there are no hard and fast rules regarding which areas of law are the most lucrative and a poorly performing attorney can be practicing in a traditionally top-earning area but make little money, while the opposite also applies.
But asking the question is important for any law firm starting out, or for those entering solo practice and wanting to choose between different practice areas to guarantee their best chances of success.
But when LawFuel spoke to and researched the question to provide some general rules about the practice areas of law where lawyers make the most money it threw up some interesting and changing ‘rules’ around the issue.
We know about personal injury lawyers earning millions – perhaps tens of millions a year in some cases – but there is an inherent mathematical skew to those figures when the massive earnings of a small number of PI lawyers is measured against the totality of those practising in the area.
It is like saying all singers earn big bucks because Kanye West (left) and Ariana Grande earn millions?
Doesn’t work that way.
There are a number of factors at play in terms of what salary and earnings are for lawyers and which practice area is best.
Numerous articles have looked at what the top earning legal areas of legal practice are, with a full report such as here, but there are developing areas that are beginning to provide high earnings for their lawyers.
The geographical location of the firm or practice area may have become less important with technology, but the fact remains that lawyers working for major firms in New York or London are going to generally earn considerably more than lawyers in Mobile Alabama or Manchester.
In the United States, the 10 states showing the highest lawyer earnings are as follows:
- California average lawyer salary: $171,550
- New York average lawyer salary: $167,110
- Massachusetts average lawyer salary: $165,610
- Connecticut average lawyer salary: $153,640
- Illinois average lawyer salary: $152,980
- Texas average lawyer salary: $150,250
- Colorado average lawyer salary: $147,560
- Arizona average lawyer salary: $145,750
- Virginia average lawyer salary: $139,180
- New Jersey average lawyer salary: $139,020
The Biggest Legal Practice Earners
According to PayScale, here are the median lawyer salaries for the more well-known concentrations, including bonuses, profit-sharing and commission:
- Patent Attorney $180,000
- Intellectual Property Attorney $162,000
- Trial Attorney: $122,000
- Tax Attorney: $122,000
- Corporate lawyer: $115,000
- Employment lawyer: $87,000
- Real Estate Attorney: $86,000
- Divorce Attorney: $84,000
- Immigration Attorney: $84,000
- Estate & Trust Attorney: $83,000
So we’re looking at the legal areas earning consistently top money in 2021, 2022 and beyond – the post-pandemic era, if you like.
And we’ve come up with six key areas of law where lawyers are earning great money as a general rule, over other more mundane areas of law (sorry to be so blunt).
So let’s count them down . .
1. General Counsel
Might seem a little tame, but being General Counsel in a large, or even a smaller company or start-up, can pay big dividends. They will usually receive stock as part of their compensation and while earning a hefty eight-figure salary they can pick up a solid earn from their stock options and dividend.
It is extremely valuable for a general counsel to have experience, both in dealing hands-on with complicated, legal matters that require consideration of compliance, litigation, business processes and general corporate law matters.
It also involves a knowledge of how to be strategic, to anticipate issues and to properly estimate risks, including various matters such as security, reputational, regulatory and legal issues.
This is another legal practice area that definitely involves good communication skills. The general counsel must be able to adapt communications to the audience and simplify complex legal matters and, conversely, also be able to explain often complex legal matters to outside counsel, be they a big law firm or a solo practitioner the company may use, in a clear manner.
Payscale indicate that the average US earnings for General Counsel is over $166,000.
2. Complex Litigation
The fact is litigation is expensive and complex litigation is especially expensive, providing major income opportunities for the practitioners.
It is a generic description perhaps, but being able to apply highly specific skills into litigation is something that will apply with particular relevance to some key, developing areas of legal practice including:
– intellectual property litigation
– commercial, transactional, M&A and related commercial litigation and arbitration
– employment law issues
– International law litigation
– privacy and security law disputes and litigation, including data breach and data security matters (see below).
3. Privacy, Cybersecurity Law
This rapidly developing area has many corporates and governments paying big fees for those who are able to help develop data security, cyber security and related documentation for them.
Dependent upon a knowledge of the fast-changing technologies that drive these areas it has become a major earner for patent attorneys and others who practise already in the high-earning IP market (another on our list), but the rapid growth of the sector has created a demand and a large fee output for this work.
The need for regulatory compliance, the massive risks of data and privacy breaches and the need to develop regulatory programs as well as appear before regulatory agencies is something that sees a growing interest in all jurisdictions.
Stringent US and EU requirements on privacy and data security with the well known fines and massive penalties for breaches of social media and data issues for companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and others is something no company, no matter the size, can afford to treat casually.
It requires high skills with a strong technical mix, but offers continuing high returns.
4. Medical & Medical Malpractice Law
This includes not only the suing for medical malpractice, which remains a strong area of litigation and earnings, but also representation of hospitals, clinics and other healthcare operations like nursing homes, urgent care clinics and HMOs, which continuing to expand with the growing baby boom market.
But it also includes pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies and medical insurers.
As the aging population swells the growth in this area, including Elder law, continues to offer highly profitable returns for lawyers.
As medical malpractice litigators can win major awards as any personal injury attorney can, the average earnings for medical malpractice lawyers according to Salary.com is $110,000 as at 2021, with the range falling between $91,000 and $119,000.
5. Tax Law
Attorneys that specialize in tax law usually represent organizations when dealing a variety of tax issues involving federal, state and local tax issues.
The complexity of tax law in most jurisdictions provides – and continues to provide – a major opportunity for those seeking to develop legal service in this area as both corporates and individuals seek legal help to deal with the protection of assets and the creation of good tax saving plans.
It takes a certain mindset and focus to practice as a successful tax lawyer but it is one area that a solo practitioner can also work in to develop work as a legal professional garnering quality, high demand work and is not the sole province of big law practices. It is important to be able to keep on top of ever-changing tax rules and a keen attention to detail. Tax lawyers need to know exactly what changes are occurring in tax laws, as well as proposed changes in order to properly advise on tax planning issues.
It is also an area that touches upon another key legal practice area, which is bankruptcy law. Tax issues frequently interface with bankruptcy law work and as such, following the ructions created by the pandemic there are key areas of legal expertise provided by leading attorneys holding expertise in tax law issues.
In the United States, a tax attorney makes on average around $100,000 according to Payscale.com.
6. Intellectual Property Law
Intellectual property, or IP law is one of the high growth areas of legal practice that offers major opportunities for any legal professional seeking to build an interesting, remunerative career.
There is frequently an international law aspect to intellectual property law practice, which provides another dimension to this work as IP assets continue to lead the way with technology-lead economic activity globally.
IP lawyers are often shown among the top echelon of lawyer evaluations in terms of legal practice remuneration figures and will only continue to do so.
There are separate areas of IP law that apply, including patent, trademark and copyright law, which attorneys will often require separate qualifications frequently with a high level of specialist expertise. Those working in patent law, for instance, will often be dealing with very technical issues, but it is another area where both big law and smaller legal professional expertise can prosper.
Other Key Areas of Legal Expertise Holding Great Prospects
Among the other top areas of law practice holding potential for high earnings and beyond our Top Six are the following –
Immigration law – This handles asylum/refugee law, business immigration law, and criminal/deportation legal work.
Elder law – This is an area that is growing as the number of baby boomers also grow. Tying in with our health area, it is nevertheless a separate and growing area of legal work providing high prospects for focus and practice growth.
Sport and Entertainment law – The massive growth in sport and entertainment provides top opportunities for practice development, somewhat dependent upon location and practice development based on the contacts that can be engendered in the respective fields.
Environmental law – Another key area occupying the minds of everyone with climate change issues creating a massive political and general move towards building a safe environment – an area touching geo-political and local issues at every stage of commercial, property and individual activity.
High Prospect Fields of Law Winners
Those are the key practice areas of law showing high growth today, but we all need to keep in mind that any lawyer, practising in any location and in area legal practice area will only be as good as his own service and expertise – and the clients who seek to join her or him as clients.
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