NALP Bulletin, June 2018
Among attorneys working in civil legal services organizations, as public defenders or local prosecuting attorneys, or as attorneys in public interest organizations, those providing civil legal services have the lowest median entry-level salary, have the smallest increases in salary based on experience, and have seen the slowest growth in salary levels over the past 14 years. This is a key finding from NALP/PSJD's 2018 Public Service Attorney Salary Survey and is consistent with findings from earlier surveys which have been conducted periodically since 2004.
For example, the median entry-level salary for a legal services attorney is $48,000; at 11-15 years of experience the median is $69,400. Pay for public defenders and local prosecuting attorneys is higher, with a median of $58,300 for entry-level public defenders and increasing to about $96,400 for those with 11-15 years of experience. For local prosecuting attorneys, the corresponding figures are $56,200 and $84,400.
Moreover, for the most part, salary medians for entry-level attorneys have increased by about $1,000 per year over the period, although that growth was sometimes stagnant in the period from 2008 to 2014, depending on the kind of organizations, shown in Table 1. For example, the median entry-level salary has increased from $34,000 to $48,000 at civil legal services organizations, though it barely budged from 2010 to 2012, while for local prosecuting attorneys the median increased from $40,000 to about $56,000, though the median was unchanged from 2010 to 2012. Entry-level salaries for public defenders increased the most from 2014 to 2018, from $50,400 to $58,300, or an average increase of about $2,000 per year from 2014 to 2018. Salaries in these organizations were basically flat from 2008 to 2010. Among more experienced civil legal services and local prosecuting attorneys, medians have increased by about $15,000 over the period 2004-2018. Again, public defenders have fared better; for example, the median has increased by $31,000 for those with 11-15 years of experience.
The public interest category is more heterogenous as to the kinds of organizations represented in any year, which should be kept in mind when making comparisons. Nonetheless, for these kinds of organizations as a whole, salaries have increased, though modestly, about $11,000 for attorneys with 11-15 years of experience. Entry-level salary medians range from $50,000 at organizations dealing with health and disability issues to $54,000 at organizations dealing with civil rights.
In addition to national salary figures, figures were compiled based on region of the country and population. For example, entry-level salaries at civil legal services organizations are notably higher in the Northeast, with a median of over $58,000. (States in the Northeast region as defined by the US Census Bureau are CT, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT.) The somewhat higher salary scale is evident across all experience levels. Among local prosecuting attorneys, salary scales are higher in the West. (The Western region includes AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT, NM, NV, OR, UT, WY, WA.) Salaries in larger metropolitan areas are not necessarily higher, although this is the case for legal services organizations.
Finally, the report, taken in tandem with its law firm companion piece — NALP's 2017 Associate Salary Survey — highlights well-understood, but nonetheless sobering distinctions between public sector/public interest salaries and law firm salaries. The median first-year salary at a law firm of 50 or fewer attorneys was about $90,000 in 2017, not quite double the salary for an entry-level attorney at a legal services organization. The median first-year salary for firms with 51-100 attorneys was $115,000. Moreover, the $180,000 starting salary paid at many large firms in big cities is beyond what even the most experienced attorneys can reasonably expect at a public interest organization.
The 2018 Public Service Attorney Salary Survey — which includes salaries by region and population size and some additional information on selected benefits — will be for free to all PSJD subscribers and available for purchase by non-subscribers in the summer of 2018.
Median Salaries for Lawyers by Type of Organization and Years of Experience — 2004-2018
|Years of Experience||2004||2006||2008||2010||2012||2014||2018|
|Civil Legal Services|
|Local Prosecuting Attorneys|
|Public Interest Organizations|
Note: Findings are based on a nationwide survey conducted by NALP among civil legal services organizations; offices of public defenders; local prosecuting attorneys; and public interest organizations. A total of 347 organizations completed the 2018 survey. Response counts in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014 were 415, 430, 658, 572, 423, and 362 organizations, respectively.
All figures have been rounded to the nearest $100.