NALP Publishes New Report on Salaries for Public Sector and Public Interest Attorneys

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 interest organizations.

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 of Experience


 Years of Experience
Civil Legal Services
 Public Defenders
 Local Prosecuting Attorneys
State Prosecuting Attorneys  Public Interest Organizations 
 Entry-level  $36,000  $43,300  $43,915  $46,374  $40,000
 5 years
 43,291  54,672  54,500  55,177  52,000
 11-15 years
 55,000  65,500  72,970  67,712  65,000

 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 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.

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