Big Law: what is it and what are the average salaries?
Big Law is the term used to describe large law firms in major cities like New York and Chicago. Becoming a lawyer requires a significant investment of time and money, although it can pay off if you get into Big Law; your starting salary at a large corporation could be $ 130,000 or more. Here’s what to know if you’re considering law school.
What is Big Law?
Big Law, sometimes referred to as BigLaw or biglaw, is a term that describes working with the largest and most prestigious law firms in the United States. Generally speaking, these law firms tend to have a strong presence in Washington, DC and in major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Dallas. However, it is not uncommon for large law firms to also have a significant presence abroad.
Overall, large law firms tend to charge clients incredibly high fees, and lawyers who work with these firms can earn higher salaries as a result.
Big Law Salary Scale
Lawyers’ salaries can vary widely depending on where you decide to practice. Additionally, lawyers tend to earn more as they advance in their careers, and especially once they have at least five or more years of experience.
Recent figures from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) also show that the size of the law firm plays an important role in the salary of lawyers. Based on salary figures for 2021, here’s how median junior lawyer salaries add up based on law firm size:
|Law firm size||Median salaries of junior lawyers in 2021|
|50 avocados or less||$ 85,000|
|51 to 100 avocados||$ 127,500|
|101 to 250 lawyers||$ 130,000|
|251 to 500 avocados||$ 170,000|
|501 to 700 avocados||$ 155,000|
|700+ avocados||$ 190,000|
Also note that more experienced lawyers tend to earn a lot more. Here’s how lawyers’ salaries compare in their eighth year at law firms of different sizes.
|Law firm size||Median salary in 2021 for eighth-year lawyers|
|50 avocados or less||$ 160,000|
|51 to 100 avocados||$ 130,000|
|101 to 250 lawyers||$ 175,000|
|251 to 500 avocados||$ 210,000|
|501 to 700 avocados||$ 218,175|
|700+ avocados||$ 260,000|
Where in the country you live can also dictate your ability to earn a high salary, and since large law firms tend to be based in large cities, the potential income is much higher. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that lawyers in the following metropolitan areas earned the highest annual average salary in May 2020:
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $ 231,610.
- San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California: $ 201,920.
- Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV: $ 186,070.
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California: $ 180,220.
- New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA: $ 180,160.
What type of lawyer makes the most money?
While where you live and the size of your law firm can dictate how much you could earn as a lawyer, the industry you work in also comes into play. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the following industries paid the highest annual average salaries in May 2020:
- Specialized design services: $ 233,400.
- Manufacture of computer and peripheral equipment: $ 221,000.
- Film and video industries: $ 218,360.
- Cable and other subscription programs: $ 216,860.
- Manufacture of navigation, measuring, electromedical and control instruments: $ 208,460.
Pay for your law studies
Becoming a lawyer requires a significant financial investment; not only do you have to get an undergraduate degree, but you also have to pay for law school. You’ll also be spending a lot of extra time in college rather than in the world of work, which can leave you struggling to catch up on income for life.
That being said, the average salary for a lawyer can more than make up for the extra time and money you spend. The key is to make sure that you pay for your law school responsibly and that you choose an academic option that matches your needs and goals.
When it comes to paying for a law school, there are several ways to find funding:
- Federal loans: Law students can borrow up to $ 20,500 each academic year in direct unsubsidized loans. From there, Direct PLUS loans allow you to borrow up to the cost of the participation, less any other financial assistance you receive. With these types of loans, lawyers can perhaps find student loan forgiveness through the loan forgiveness utility.
- Loans for private law schools: Once you have maximized federal student loans, you can also apply for private student loans. These loans can help you fill funding gaps so you can complete your law school, and they often come with low rates and flexible repayment plans.
- Scholarships and grants: Scholarships and grants do not have to be reimbursed. Law students may be able to find scholarships through local organizations, schools, or scholarship search engines.
The bottom line
If you are looking for a career in Big Law and a corresponding salary, going to law school is a must. However, you should always think about the costs associated with studying law, as well as how much time you will need to devote to it. If you manage to minimize law school debt while continuing your path to a career in law, you will have the best chance of getting a return on your investment.