Being a lawyer is prestigious no doubt but prestige alone won’t guarantee you wealth. A lot of lawyers today are indigent and live barely on survival wages. In Nigeria, there is the charge-and-bail lawyer (a derogatory terminology for a lawyer of little worth) while elsewhere in the world, there is the ambulance chaser lawyer. The only probable explanation for this in a profession where some lawyers make millions from writing just a single legal brief lies with their choice of dreadful career paths. If you want to join the league of the big boys you will have to do just what they do too. We have taken the time to compile a list of the well-paying, in-demand jobs in the legal field.
Our projections are based in the main, on present demand for services in these jobs and likely increment for the foreseeable future. The figures listed below are those for lawyers practicing in America. Those for Nigeria are yet to be released. But we’ll update this article to include them once they’re out, so watch out for it. As might be expected, the take-home would vary from lawyer to lawyer depending on their level of experience in the field.
(1) Family lawyer
Family law covers areas such as divorce, marital agreements, adoption, surrogacy, child custody and maintenance. Family lawyers handle proceedings in family related matters like divorce, legal separation, custody arrangements and adoptions. They may also concentrate on divorce, domestic abuse and other related fields. Nobody gets a kick out of seeing marriages fall apart but given the near-break down of the marriage institution in the world of today, family lawyers have more than their share of work and this will of course translate to more money. Their annual salary ranges between $38,619 to $103,658.
(2) Criminal lawyer
Criminal defense lawyers are licensed attorneys or lawyers who defend individuals, entities and organizations charged with the commission of a crime. These offenses could range from domestic violence crimes, theft, embezzlement and a host of other criminal offenses. Their functions include the investigation of cases and interviewing of witnesses, building a defense and case strategy on behalf of client’s, drafting and filing motions relevant to their defense, plea-bargaining for lesser offenses and advocating for an accused at the trial. Criminal lawyers are the go-to guys when it comes to handling matters with a whiff of crime or criminality. Are they rich? You bet. In Nigeria, they are the guys representing politicians charged with embezzlement and other financial crimes related offenses. They do make a lot of money especially when the case is a high profile one. They earn $39,596 to $127,425 in annual income.
(3) Immigration lawyer
Immigration law is a highly specialized field and one that set lawyers with a proper grasp of immigration, citizenship and employment apart in their field of expertise. Immigration lawyers assist in the immigration process by helping clients obtain work visas in other countries. They may also assist students in applying for visas when studying or traveling abroad. They can also assist entrepreneurs start a business in a foreign country by helping them comply with the necessary labor certification requirements and to obtain the specific business visa.
They may also provide assistance in helping people keep from being deported due to expired visas and where necessary represent them in court. Do they earn good income? Without a doubt. Their annual starting salaries hovers around ($30,000 – $114,000).
(4) Corporate Lawyer
So what does a corporate lawyer do? Corporate lawyers are an elitist coterie of lawyers who work in large and mid-size law firms, where they provide expert legal advice to clients and handle business transaction involving negotiation, contract drafting, review of contracts, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and the incorporation of companies. Other roles they occupy include counseling public companies, the rights of shareholders and directors and other secretarial matters. Corporate lawyers are much respected and their job descriptions are as broad as the horizons. Being a corporate lawyer means one thing. Take a guess? Good try – your cash-strapped weekends will become a pariah. They earn $48,810 -$162.504 in annual income.
(5) Bankruptcy lawyer
Bankruptcy law specifies conditions for the creation of a plan that allows debtors who are unable to pay their creditors (bankrupt), to resolve their debts through the distribution of their assets among creditors. A bankruptcy lawyer usually initiates the bankruptcy process by filing for bankruptcy on behalf of bankrupt individuals and companies and representing clients in court. They often provide expert legal advice to clients on the type of bankruptcy that is appropriate for the client’s circumstance and the other aspects of the client’s case. In terms of the top earning law practice areas, bankruptcy lawyers do hold their own. Their annual earnings are ($40,738 – $138,523)
(6) Real Estate Lawyer
Real estate lawyers also known as property lawyers deal chiefly with real estate (Immovable properties like land, buildings and fixtures). They may advice clients on matters affecting landed property, tenancies and more. They do also give advice in real estate transactions as in where property is bought or sold. Their roles in real estate transactions include:
(a) Double-checking the title to properties to be sold to ensure they are free of any legal or equitable encumbrances, liens, mortgages and other covenants registered against the property
(b) Prepare and file all necessary legal documentation
(c) Prepare the deed and where necessary, a power of attorney
Cities are expanding every day and this precipitates a run on landed properties around emerging metropolitan vicinities. It is in such situations that real estate lawyers come into their own. They do make a lot of money from real estate transactions more than you could imagine. Real estate lawyers earn $43,507 – $136.038 annually.
(7) Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Lawyer
Another term for personal injury law is tort law. Personal injury law covers situations in which a person’s body, mind, or emotion are hurt arising from someone else’s negligence or carelessness. It includes wrongful death, or situations where an injury proves fatal. A personal injury and wrongful death lawyer usually provides legal representation to those who claim to have been injured, physically or psychologically as a result of the negligence or wrongdoing of another person, corporation, government agency, or other entity. They are licensed lawyers versed in tort law. They may handle cases that cover work injuries, fatal accidents, medical mistakes, defective products and slip and fall accidents. Personal Injury lawyers are highly sought after today and do earn quite a fortune representing injured clients. They earn around ($41,583 – $124,247) annually.
(8) Employment Rights lawyer
Employment law otherwise known as a labour law governs the employer-employee relationship, including individual employment contracts, the application of tort and contract doctrines, and a large body of statutory regulation on issues such as the right to organize and negotiate collective bargaining agreements. Employment rights lawyers advise clients on employment related matters like worker’s compensation, employment discrimination, labor relations, family and medical leave, immigration, employment benefits, wrongful termination, occupational safety and health among other things. Employment rights lawyers act as the go-between in disputes between employers/employees. It’s an area of law with a promise of upward monetary mobility to interested lawyers. They earn around ($100,116 – $202,987) annually.
(9) Tax Lawyer
Tax law represents the most complex area of law requiring specialization. Tax law cover the rules, policies and laws that regulate the tax processes. It involves charges on estate, transactions, property, income, licenses and more by the government. Taxation also includes duties on imports from foreign countries and all mandatory levies imposed by the government upon individuals and corporations for the benefit of the state. Tax lawyers work at government agencies like the Federal or State Inland Revenue Agencies. In practice, they may also work for law firms specializing in taxation services, businesses and corporations, represent clients charged with tax evasion, or provide tax consultation services. As long as government exists, there will always be a run for tax lawyers. It’s lucrative too but you must be prepared to do a little math. These guys earn ($62,961 – $118,269) annually.
(10) Intellectual property lawyer
Intellectual property law deals chiefly with protection of property rights, including copyrightable works, business ideas, discoveries, and inventions. It also extends to the protection of patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets.
Intellectual property lawyers are licensed professionals skilled in intellectual property matters. The world of today is business oriented with people conceiving new business ideas, inventions and other commercial works at the speed of thought, intellectual lawyers will always be at the hub of the business world. Among the endless things intellectual lawyers do are the filing of patent and trademark applications, the defense of trademark or patents and the writing of licensing agreements and more. Are they well-oiled? You can bet your bottom Dollar! ($77,211 – $251,677) annually.
So which of the jobs should you choose? For me (and possibly you as well), the amount to be gained pursuing a certain legal practice area is not such much as important as one’s job satisfaction. Of course, it’s not like I don’t know jobs are scare out there from the over saturation of the legal market. Still, in a profession where a half of lawyers hate their jobs, as the latest stats would reveal, you can’t possibly hinge your career decisions on pay alone. Instead, focus on your own personal criteria for finding the right job for you as a lawyer. Sure, this won’t mean you’ll always find a job with a six figure salary, but one thing is clear. You won’t ever find yourself in any job that makes you miserable either. Only choose wisely.
A youngish lawyer with penetrating insight, Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Lawstudenthub, a site dedicated to helping new wigs find their footing in a trickily slippery legal profession and stay current with emerging developments in the legal industry. He holds an LL.B from the University of Benin and a BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.
To get in touch, follow him on social media.