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Salary

Some criminal justice lawyers are born wealthy, others achieve wealth, but clients always thrust wealth upon them. Prosecutors have no clients. They represent the government and therefore are on its payroll. Pay varies across jurisdictions and is usually a factor of the cost of living in the locale. State prosecutors in a mid-sized city should expect to see figures from $50k at the entry level grow into $80k with ten years experience. For the prosecutor practicing in Nowhere, PA, receiving $30k and a pig every month is a fine entry wage, but 'tis no bling, English. The federal government pays more than the average national rate for prosecutors at $80k to start reaching into the low $100k range with experience. Benefits include ID badge picture taken under exceptionally bad lighting conditions, aviator sunglasses, and the license to respond to every state's entitlement to a case with, "Not any more it's not."

When it comes to appointed counsel, having an attorney is a right, but pay is not—it's a privilege. Beginning public defenders will look longingly at median prosecutor incomes at their pay around $40k per year in even prosperous jurisdictions. With all their hard work, they'll probably just manage to eke out $70k per year after several years of experience.

The real money in criminal justice lawyering comes from private defense attorney practice. Many of these guys wear Prada and dangle their GT3 keys in front of salivating prosecutors, but not all of them. With a healthy clientele, private defense attorneys garner a good $90k per year early on. But since many private defense attorneys are solo practitioners, there's a lot of competition for clients. To even the odds, you'll have to go to a place where crime is almost as concentrated as DEFCON-2 tans and Axe body spray (Hello Camden, NJ).

In major metropolitan areas, established private defense lawyers can earn several hundred thousand dollars a year off their reputations, charging exorbitant flat fees for, say, appearing at a hearing whose legal significance is the equivalent of saying "here" during class roll call. If a case comes to trial where there’s serious work to be done, a defense attorney’s fees just become a J-curve. So long student loans.

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