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Public sector attorneys still earn significantly less than private sector lawyers

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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.”


 

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  • 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.

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  1. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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