NALP Publishes New Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Research

NALP announces publication of new research that for the first time documents salary information for both entry-level and experienced attorneys at public sector and public interest organizations.

According to the 2004 Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Report, the median entry-level salary for an attorney at a civil legal services organization is $34,000; an attorney with 11-15 years of experience can expect a salary of about $52,000. The median entry-level salary for public defenders is $39,000; with 11-15 years of experience the median is $65,000. The salary progression for state and local prosecuting attorneys is similar, starting at about $40,000 and progressing to $68,000-69,000 for those with 11-15 years of experience. Finally, salaries for attorneys in public interest organizations, such as those dealing with elder law or children's rights, start at $36,700 and rise to $64,000 with 11-15 years of experience.

Median Salaries for Attorneys by Type of Organization and Years of Experience

Years of experience Civil legal services organizations Public defenders Local prosecuting attorneys State prosecuting attorneys Public interest organizations
Entry-level $34,000 $39,000 $40,000 $40,574 $36,656
5 years 40,000 50,000 52,000 47,700 46,313
11-15 years 51,927 65,000 69,255 68,139 64,000

These are among the key findings of the report, based on a 2004 nationwide salary 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 the result of this survey, completed by 415 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.

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 West, with a median starting salary of $37,750 and increasing to $58,000 for attorneys with 11-15 years of experience. Among public interest organizations, salary scales are somewhat higher in the Northeast.

Salaries in larger metropolitan areas are generally more lucrative, but not necessarily by large amounts, particularly at the entry levels. For example, the median starting salary for a local prosecutor is about $40,000 in rural areas, compared with $44,300 in metropolitan areas of more than two million in population. With 11-15 years of experience, the respective figures are $66,450 and $85,200.

The survey also gathered information about benefits and workplace policies. Among the findings:

  • Legal services organizations are most likely to pay the full premium for health and dental insurance for their employees-73% and 61% of respondents, respectively, reported doing so. Among local prosecuting attorney offices, the figures were 42% and 23.5%.
  • Legal services and public interest organizations typically provide more vacation days, with a median of 15 days for new employees and 22 to 25 days after 10 years. At public defender and prosecuting attorney offices, employees typically start with 10 days and can work up to 20 days after 10 years.

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