So after reading the information above, we're sure you're wondering, "Who in their right mind would ever…." The answer is salary. Trial attorneys have the potential to make lots of money. Lots and lots of money. A whole lotta Benjamins. A whole head of lettuce. An entire plate of clams. Hmm. We're getting hungry. And, as a general rule, the bigger the city, the bigger the paycheck.
An entry level civil trial lawyer working at a large firm in a major city can earn a base salary of up to $160k a year…not including bonus money. Partners at those same firms can earn incomes of several million dollars a year. Yes, you read those numbers correctly. So if you're an associate, we say go ahead, buy that big fat BMW! And if you're a partner, buy nine big fat BMWs! And sometimes partners at those bigger firms can get an even bigger paycheck with just one single case. Take for example, the $3.4 million dollars in ATTORNEYS fees (the actual judgment was $1.263 billion) awarded to two firms in a recent shareholder derivative (that's fancy speak for "Hey, we're the shareholders and we think you lied to us about money!") suit against Grupo Mexico. Grupo Mexico got their los culos handed to them by the plaintiffs' attorneys. And the plaintiffs' attorneys collected quite a few pesos in return.
Even if you work at a small firm in a smaller market, the average salary for a civil trial lawyer comes in around $100k a year. So you can still buy a BMW. But it should probably be a smaller one. A private criminal defense attorney can also expect to earn some serious bacon. Mmm. Bacon. With a few years under your belt, as a private criminal defense attorney, you're looking at around $100k a year.
Prosecutors and Public Defenders aren’t quite as well off. Public Defenders are especially underpaid with an average salary of between $41k and $68k a year, depending on what city you are in. Prosecutors typically earn a slightly larger salary of between $50k and $80k a year again depending on what city you're in. While the salaries don't compete with those of trial attorneys in the private sector, the courtroom experience gained with these two positions is unparalleled. So, while you might be rolling around town in your Toyota Corolla, you learn a lot more about "the business."