New Research on Attorney Salaries at Public Sector and Public Interest Organizations

NALP Bulletin, October 2004 

NALP recently published a new research report, the 2004 Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Report, that for the first time documents salary information for both entry-level and experienced attorneys at public sector and public interest organizations.

Excerpts of the reported findings are shown in Table 1 below. These findings are based on a 2004 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 the result of this survey, which was completed by 415 organizations, NALP has been able to compile salary information by 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, salaries at civil legal services organizations are somewhat higher in the West, with a median starting salary of $37,750 — 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 with populations of more than two million. 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.

This new report, which will be compiled every other year, serves as a companion piece to NALP's annual Associate Salary Survey. These two reports also provide a basis for comparing private law firm and public sector salaries. For example, according to the 2004 Associate Salary Survey, the median salary for a fifth-year associate ranges from $82,000 to $155,000 — amounts two to three times what an attorney with similar experience makes at a public service organization. (See Table 2 below.)

Table 1. 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

 

Table 2. Median Salary for Fifth-Year Associates in Private Practice —
By Size of Firm

2-25 Attorneys 26-50 Attorneys 51-100 Attorneys 101-250 Attorneys 251-500 Attorneys 501 or More Attorneys
$82,063 $90,421 $97,000 $102,000 $115,750 $155,000
National Association for Law Placement, Inc.® (NALP®)
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