New Findings on Salaries for Public Interest Attorneys
NALP Bulletin, September 2008
This month NALP is publishing the 2008 Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Report. This biennial report, first published in 2004, provides salary information for both entry-level and experienced attorneys at public sector and public interest organizations.
This year's survey brought greatly increased participation across all types of organizations, an increase that may be attributable in part to a heightened awareness of the survey in the public interest community, particularly among the organizations with which NALP and PSLawNet partnered to distribute, publicize, and promote the survey.
Excerpts of the findings, along with comparisons of those reported in the prior two reports, are shown in Table 1. It is evident that salary medians at these organizations have increased quite modestly, generally by no more than $5,000, regardless of organization type or experience. It is also evident that experience brings with it relatively modest increases in salary, particularly at civil legal services organizations. For example, the median entry-level salary for a legal services attorney is $40,000; at 11-15 years of experience, the median is $60,000. Pay for public defenders and local prosecuting attorneys is somewhat higher, starting in the mid-40's and increasing to about $75,000 for those with 11-15 years of experience. The full report 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.
In addition to national salary figures, the report provides subnational analyses based on region of the country and population. For example, entry-level salaries at civil legal services organizations are slightly higher in the Northeast, with a median of $42,000. Among public defenders and local prosecuting attorneys, salary scales are somewhat higher in the West. Salaries in larger metropolitan areas are generally higher, but not necessarily by large amounts, particularly at legal services organizations.
Finally, salary figures are reported for a wide variety of organizations that handle cases or advocate in a specific issue area. Entry-level salary medians range from $37,500 at environmental organizations to $43,000 at organizations dealing with civil rights and with housing/homelessness issues.
The survey also gathered information about benefits and workplace policies. Among the findings:
This report serves as a companion piece to NALP's annual Associate Salary Survey. These two reports also provide a basis for comparing private sector and public interest salaries. The contrasts, though hardly a surprise, are nonetheless stark. For example, according to the 2008 Associate Salary Survey, the median salary for a fifth-year associate ranged from $99,000 to $183,000 depending on firm size, figures that are double, and often more than double, what an attorney with similar experience makes at a public service organization. The $160,000 starting salary now typical of big firms in big cities is beyond what even the most experienced attorneys can reasonably expect at a public sector organization. (See Table 2.)
The full 2008 Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary
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). The 2008 Associate Salary Survey is available
for $135 (plus shipping and handling). Both reports may be ordered through NALP's online bookstore, or by calling
Table 1. Median Salaries for Lawyers by Type of Organization and Years of Experience — 2004-2008
Table 2. Median Salaries for Associates in Private Practice by Size of Firm — 2004-2008
Source: NALP Associate Salary Survey, 2004, 2006, and 2008.