How Much Do Lawyers Make: Your Ultimate Guide

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Have you ever had to hire a lawyer? It can be a very daunting task but one that is quite necessary when you have a legal situation. Along with all the fees that can be added to your court case, it can be a bit surprising to find out how much do lawyers make from it all.

Going to court is one of the not-so-fun things that we sometimes must do. Whether we are the ones initiating or if someone else is suing us, it can be costly either way. There are ways to keep the cost down if we know how much do lawyers make before we even have them represent us.

How Much Do Lawyers Make?

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The salary amount of a lawyer can be based on what type of attorney they are, years of experience and their education. Here is the breakdown of attorney’s and their salaries.

Corporate Attorney

This attorney represents cases involving businesses and their transactions. Rarely do they actually go to court for these are usually negotiated beforehand. The salary is between $–$$, depending on the size of the firm. In order to get a job in this area of law, you must have graduated from one of the top three law schools: Yale, Harvard or Stanford. But this isn’t enough to land the job - you must also have had excellent grades and a great GPA as well as worked in the field as a clerk.

Public Defender

This is an attorney that represents you in a criminal case when you can’t afford one on your own counsel. This beginning salary is $, but someone having 11 years or more experience could earn $$ in this position.


These are the lawyers that work for the government in your area. They prosecute the cases in a criminal court, representing the people. This salary starts at $ but could be more depending on the agency.

Patent Attorneys

These attorneys, who are also called patent agents, represent those who have created something and need to get a patent or documentation proving ownership for it. They are with the USPTO, which stands for the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Experienced patent attorneys make $$ or more a year.

Personal Trial Attorneys

These lawyers, if they are representing someone very affluent, can earn a lot of money. They can make a salary from around a half a million dollars up to $$$ million annually!

How Much Does A Lawyer Cost?

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Depending upon the services that you need and what kind of rate you agree to, the following are the types of ways your lawyer can bill you. As with all of these, make sure that you have a contract that states what it is that is included in these fees. Watch out for administration and filing fees---for these are generally not included.

Flat Fee

This means that you will not wait until the trial to settle the payment agreement. It could be that you give them the entire amount up front to represent you. This is the simpler method because it is straightforward and leaves no room for surprises on how much do lawyers make. There are some cases in which this works well. They are amicable divorces, immigration cases and bankruptcy disputes, to name a few.

Hourly Rate

It is generally as it sounds. The attorney charges for his services by the hour. They state how long they will need to work on your case and then send you an itemized bill. Of all the ways to bill their clients, this is the most popular one. This rate is not charged without consulting the client first. It is agreed to prior to billing as with all other fees so there are no surprises. Keep in mind on this particular one that the rate will vary depending on certain factors. This includes the location of the firm, business costs and level of experience of the attorney.


This type of fee isn’t used for all cases. It is when you have a case like an accident, collection or injury case; when it is settled, the lawyer takes his or her fee. This is a percentage that is agreed upon prior to the attorney taking your case. This fee is contingent upon the outcome of your case.


This is a payment that you give to the attorney directly to have the counsel start on your case. It is to retain his or her services to help you on your case. When the attorney works on your case, the counsel will be deducting fees from the retainer amount. You will receive statements reflecting monthly charges or another deduction method. Should you decide not to continue to pursue the case for any reason, you will probably not get your money back from the attorney.

Referral Fee

Should your own attorney not be able to represent your specific case due to his lack of experience, they can refer you to a colleague or another firm. This would be an additional fee and would show up on your bill. It is important to verify the experience of your attorney on your case should you not wish it to be referred during the process.

It is important to note on all of these types of fees that these can be used on civil cases. Flat and/or hourly rates are mostly for criminal cases for those take longer and are more entailed. They also require a retainer fee. By knowing these fees, you will know more on how much do lawyers make.

How To Choose The Right One In Your Price Range

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Picking the right lawyer can be the make or break point for your case. It could mean---if you were in a criminal case---the difference between being acquitted or going to jail. This being the case, you should not be quick to grab just any lawyer. It isn’t enough that they have a shingle hanging above their door or their name on a big office; it is their experience that you are paying for.

Does Your Case Need a Lawyer?

This is something that you must consider at the very start, even before deciding on an attorney. Look at the time involved in putting a case together and going to court. Also, apply this knowledge you now have on how much do lawyers make. There is nothing wrong with filing if it is worth it. It will require a lot of effort. Your time is valuable, and it should be compensated so make sure that this case will cover those costs. You might not need to hire a lawyer to do this, but again, your time is money so be wise about your decision. A good attorney makes things go right without all of the stress.


This should be the number one reason to find the best attorney for your case. You need someone that is a liaison between you and the court system. Not all of us have law degrees nor have even stepped foot on the Yale or Harvard campuses. It is important to have a qualified attorney that knows their way around the legal system whether it be taxes, divorce proceedings, injury and DUIs, naming a few. You should not face these alone, and even if it costs more, it will ultimately help you in the long run to have someone in court on your side.

Confirm All Costs

You must verify all the costs that are involved before settling with an attorney. Don’t be afraid to get a written estimate like you would for a car repair. No one says you can’t shop around for best attorney like you shop around for the best car? You might find that one attorney has more fees included, such as admin, filing, etc. But don’t base everything on how much do lawyers make because the price isn’t the only factor. You must feel comfortable with this attorney for he or she will be representing you.


No one likes paperwork. We leave that up to some else when we can, like some administrative assistants. But when we need legal papers to be filled out and filed on our behalf, this is the area that we might not want to make a mistake on. Attorneys are almost essential for this part because they know what the court needs for whatever case that they are representing. They are familiar with due dates, type of forms and even what certain judges need to see to move the case along.  It is best to have a lawyer that you can call that you trust to help with this instead of going it alone. It could be costly for you; it could cause your case not to go your way.


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When you finally get the breakdown on how much do lawyers make, you can see why they charge what they do. Their overall costs are based on the type of case, location, education and experience. It isn’t--in most cases--that they are overcharging you, it is the fact that we must be more aware of their fees. We must verify that we understand exactly what they are charging so there are no surprises. It is hard enough to go through a case against us; we certainly don’t need to add more stress on top of it. Attorneys are there to help, and if you find the right one for you, you won’t mind the costs.

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