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


NALP has recently published the 2008 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 this new report, the median entry-level salary for an attorney at a civil legal services organization is $40,000; an attorney with 11-15 years of experience can expect a salary of $60,000. The median entry-level salary for public defenders is about $47,000; with 11-15 years of experience, the median is $75,000. The salary progression for state and local prosecuting attorneys is similar, starting in the upper 40's to $50,000 and progressing to $77,000 to $81,000 for those with 11-15 years of experience. Finally, salaries for attorneys in public interest organizations with issue-driven missions - such as those dealing with women's or environmental issues - start at $41,000 and rise to $69,000 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 2008 Associate Salary Survey, the median salary for a fifth-year associate ranges from $93,000 to over $200,000 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 interest or public sector organization according to the 2008 Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Report. The $160,000 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. Finally, it is also evident, based on a comparison to findings in previous reports in 2004 and 2006, that salaries at public sector and public interest organizations have increased only modestly since 2004, typically by less than $10,000, regardless of organization type or experience.

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 $40,000 $47,435 $45,675 $50,000 $41,000
5 years 48,000 60,000 60,000 62,780 53,815
11-15 years 60,000 75,000 77,500 80,830 69,195

The 2008 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 658 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.

The "public interest organization" category is broken down to focus on six subcategories of organizations based on the kinds of cases handled or issue areas advocated: civil rights; environmental law; international human rights/immigration law; women/children/domestic violence; health/disability law; and housing/homelessness. This categorization allowed for salary comparisons among organizations performing the same type of work. For example, the median entry-level salary at environmental organizations is $37,500, compared with $43,000 at organizations involved in civil rights issues. The report also has a 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 $42,500. 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 $45,000 in rural areas and small cities, compared with about $50,000 in metropolitan areas with populations of more than 1 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 - 74% and 69% of respondents, respectively, reported doing so. Among prosecuting attorneys and public defender offices, fewer than half pay the full premium. Contrasts are similar with respect to dental insurance.
  • Legal services organizations typically provide more vacation days, with a median of 15 days for new employees, and 24 days after 10 years. At public defender and local prosecuting attorney offices, employees typically start at 10 to 12 days and can work up to about 20 days after 10 years.

Additional information about NALP research can be found under the Research tab above. The full report, including salaries by region and population size, and additional information on bonuses and benefits, is available from the NALP Bookstore for $50, plus shipping and handling.

About NALP: Founded in 1971, the National Association for Law Placement, Inc.® (NALP) is dedicated to facilitating legal career counseling and planning, recruitment and retention, and the professional development of law students and lawyers. NALP maintains an online archive of press releases at — click on Research & Statistics > Press Releases. For additional information about NALP research, contact Judith Collins (, Director of Research, or James G. Leipold (, Executive Director, at 202-835-1001. Mailing address: National Association for Law Placement, 1025 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 1110, Washington, DC 20036-5413.

National Association for Law Placement, Inc.® (NALP®), 1220 19th Street NW, Suite 510, Washington, DC 20036-2405, (202) 835-1001 [email protected], © Copyright 2023 NALP


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