Public sector attorneys still earn significantly less than private sector lawyers

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Most public sector lawyer salaries have kept pace with inflation but remain significantly lower than salaries at private law firms, according to the “2012 Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Report” by the National Association for Law Placement.

The report indicated that most public interest starting salaries have risen between 23 percent (for public interest organizations) and 29 percent (for public defenders) while the consumer price index has increased about 22 percent during the same eight-year period.

According to the research, the median entry-level salary for a legal services attorney is just under $43,000, and an attorney with 11 to 15 years of experience can expect to make about $65,000.

Beginning public defenders earn a median salary around $50,500, while public defenders with 11 to 15 years of experience will be paid a median salary of $78,600.  

Entry-level prosecutors post a median salary of $50,000, and that progresses to almost $77,000 for those with 11 to 15 years of experience.

Salaries for attorneys in public interest organizations with issue-driven missions, such as women’s or civil rights issues, start around $54,000 and rise to about $75,000 with 11 to 15 years of experience.

These wages compare to a median first-year salary of about $80,000 at a law firm of 50 or fewer attorneys, almost double the salary of an entry-level attorney at a legal services organization. Moreover, starting salaries at many large firms in major metropolitan areas are near $160,000, beyond what even the most experienced attorneys can expect at a public interest organization.

James Leipold, executive director at NALP, stated that while salaries for public attorneys have risen with inflation, they have not risen enough to entice lawyers to practice in the public sector.

He noted that over the past eight years, “the cost of legal education and the average amount of law student debt have both risen at a much higher pace, which means that despite favorable changes in the federal loan repayment options available to law school graduates working in the public interest, there are still significant economic disincentives at play as law students consider whether or not to pursue public interest legal careers.”



  • Public VS Private Attorney
    An important point that was not made in the article is expenses in the private sector. The list is considerable. (1)A building to work out of either by purchasing or lease plus maintenance. (2)Office furniture, file cabinets. (3) Staff salaries, secretary/receptionist or both and taxes paid by the employer. (4)Phone, internet, copier/printer + toner, computers, software, paper, utilities (lights, heat, water, sewer), trash pickup. office cleaning. (5)Continuing education, association dues. (6)Insurance for health, E&O, on the building. (7)Taxes on the building, the personal property. (8)Retirement plan. In the public sector all of this would be provided.

Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.