NALP's Public Sector & Public Interest Salary Report Turns Ten!

NALP Bulletin, July 2014

NALP’s first Public Sector & Public Interest Attorney Salary Survey was conducted in 2004 and has been conducted in even-numbered years ever since. Surveys during that ten-year span have consistently documented that practice experience brings with it relatively modest salary increases, particularly within civil legal services organizations. For example, the median entry-level salary for a legal services attorney is $44,600; at 11-15 years of experience the median is $65,000. Pay for public defenders and local prosecuting attorneys is somewhat higher, with a median of $50,400 for entry-level public defenders and increasing to about $84,500 for those with 11-15 years of experience. For local prosecuting attorneys, the corresponding figures are $51,100 and $80,000.

Moreover, for the most part, salary medians have increased by about $1,000 per year over the decade, as shown in Table 1. For example, the median entry-level salary has increased from $34,000 to $44,600 at civil legal services organizations, while for local prosecuting attorneys the median increased from $40,000 to $51,100. Among more experienced attorneys at these organizations, medians have also increased by about $10,000. Public defenders have fared a little bit better, at least among those with more experience, where the median increased from $65,000 to about $84,000.

In addition to national salary figures, the report provides subnational analyses based on U.S. region and population. For example, entry-level salaries at civil legal services organizations are slightly higher in the Northeast, with a median of $47,000. (States in the Northeast region as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau are CT, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, and VT.) The somewhat higher salary scale is evident across all experience levels. Among local prosecuting attorneys, salary scales are somewhat higher in the West. (The Western region includes AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT, NM, NV, OR, UT, WY, and WA.) Salaries in larger metropolitan areas are not necessarily higher, although this is the case for 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 $40,000 at organizations dealing with health and disability issues to $52,000 at organizations dealing with civil rights.

This report continues to serve as a companion piece to NALP’s annual Associate Salary Survey, documenting in stark terms the contrast between public sector/public interest salaries and those at private law firms. For example, in 2013, the most recent associate salary report available, the median salary for a fifth-year associate ranged from about $100,000 to $200,000 depending on firm size. These figures are double or triple what an attorney with similar experience makes at a public service organization. The $160,000 starting salary at big firms in big cities is beyond what even the most experienced attorneys can reasonably expect at a public sector or public interest organization.

The full 2014 Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Report, including salaries by region and population size and additional information on selected benefits, is available from the NALP Bookstore for $50 (plus shipping and handling).

Table 1. Median Salaries for Lawyers by Type of Organization and Years of Experience — 2004-2014

Civil Legal Services
Years of Experience 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014
Entry-level $34,000 $36,000 $40,000 $42,000 $42,800 $44,600
5 years 40,000 43,300 48,000 49,400 50,200 51,000
11-15 years 51,900 55,000 60,000 62,500 64,900 65,000
Public Defenders
Years of Experience 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014
Entry-level $39,000 $43,300 $47,400 $47,500 $50,500 $50,400
5 years 50,000 54,700 60,000 60,300 62,800 63,000
11-15 years 65,000 65,500 75,000 76,200 78,600 84,500
Local Prosecuting Attorneys
Years of Experience 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014
Entry-level $40,000 $43,900 $45,700 $50,000 $50,000 $51,100
5 years 52,000 54,500 60,000 62,300 61,400 63,600
11-15 years 69,300 73,000 77,500 81,500 76,700 80,000
Public Interest Organizations
Years of Experience 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014
Entry-level $36,700 $40,000 $41,000 $45,000 $45,000 $46,000
5 years 46,300 52,000 53,800 53,600 56,300 59,000
11-15 years 64,000 65,000 69,200 70,900 75,000 75,000

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 362 organizations completed the 2014 survey. Response counts in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012 were 415, 430, 658, 572, and 423 organizations, respectively.

All figures have been rounded to the nearest $100.

National Association for Law Placement, Inc.® (NALP®)
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