NALP has recently published the 2006 Public Sector and Public Interest
Attorney Salary Report, a biennial report that provides salary information
for both entry-level and experienced attorneys at public sector and public
According to the NALP 2006 Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney
Salary Report, the median entry-level salary for an attorney at a civil
legal services organization is $36,000; an attorney with 11-15 years of
experience can expect a salary of $55,000. The median entry-level salary for
public defenders is about $43,000; with 11-15 years of experience, the median is
$65,000. The salary progression for state and local prosecuting attorneys is
similar, starting in the mid 40’s and progressing to $68,000 to $73,000 for
those with 11-15 years of experience. Finally, salaries for attorneys in public
interest organizations, such as those dealing with women’s or environmental
issues, start at $40,000 and rise to $65,000 with 11-15 years of experience.
This report serves as a companion piece to NALP’s annual Associate Salary
Survey. Together these two reports also provide a basis for comparing
private law firm and public sector/public interest salaries. The contrasts,
though hardly a surprise, are nonetheless stark. For example, according to the
NALP 2006 Associate Salary Survey, the median salary for a fifth-year associate
ranges from $90,000 to $169,000 depending on firm size. These figures are at
least double, and often more than double, what an attorney with similar
experience makes at a public sector organization according to the 2006
Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Report. The $135,000
starting salary found by the Associate Salary Survey to be typical at
big firms in big cities is beyond what even the most experienced attorneys can
reasonably expect at a public sector organization.
Median Salaries for Attorneys by Type of Organization and Years
| Years of
| Public Defenders
| Local Prosecuting
| 5 years
| 11-15 years
The 2006 Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Report
was based on a nationwide survey conducted by NALP among civil legal services
organizations; offices of public defenders, state attorneys general, and local
prosecuting attorneys; and public interest organizations. As a result of this
survey, completed by 430 organizations, NALP has been able to compile salary
information by years of experience. The study benchmarks salaries for each type
of organization for each of the first seven years, then in increments for
attorneys with 8-10 years of experience, 11-15 years of experience, and more
than 15 years of experience. It is also evident, based on a comparison of
findings with the first report in 2004, that salaries at these organizations
have increased only modestly, by a few thousand dollars at most, regardless of
organization type or experience.
A new feature of this year’s report is
information for five types of public interest organizations based on the kinds
of cases handled or issue areas advocated: civil rights; environmental law;
international human rights/immigration law; women’s rights/family law/domestic
violence/child advocacy; and health/ disability law. This categorization
allowed for salary comparisons among organizations performing the same type of
work. For example, the median entry-level salary at an environmental
organization is $33,000, compared with $40,000 at organizations involved in
health or women’s rights issues. The report also has a new section devoted
entirely to compensation for federal government attorneys.
In addition to
national salary figures, the report provides sub-national analyses based on
region of the country and population. For example, salaries at civil legal
services organizations are somewhat higher in the Northeast, with a median
entry-level salary of $38,500 — and increasing to about $58,000 for attorneys
with 11-15 years of experience. Among public defenders, salary scales are
somewhat higher in the West. Salaries in larger metropolitan areas are generally
higher, but not necessarily by large amounts, particularly at the entry-level.
For example, the median entry-level salary for a local prosecutor is about
$41,000 in rural areas and small cities, compared with $45,000 in metropolitan
areas with a population of 1 to 2 million, and $48,000 in metropolitan areas
with a population of more than 2 million.
The survey also gathered
information about benefits and workplace policies. Among the findings:
- Public interest and legal services organizations are most likely to pay the
full premium for health insurance for their employees — 76% and 68% of
respondents, respectively, reported doing so. Among local prosecuting attorney
and public defender offices, the figures were 43% and 40%, respectively.
Contrasts are similar with respect to dental insurance.
- Legal services organizations typically provide more vacation days,
with a median of 18 days for new employees, and 25 days after 10 years. At
public defender and prosecuting attorney offices, employees typically start at
11 to 13 days and can work up to about 20 days after 10 years.
Additional information about NALP research can be found on NALP’s website at
www.nalp.org. The full report, including salaries by region and population size,
and additional information on bonuses and benefits, is available from NALP for
$50, plus shipping and handling.