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The Juris Doctor degree is a professional law degree that students earn after successfully completing law school. With a J.D. degree, law graduates can become attorneys by applying for admission to the state bars that govern the jurisdictions where they wish to practice. Law graduates can also pursue alternative careers with their J.D. degree in such fields as education, research, management consulting, finance, philanthropy, law enforcement, human resources or public policy.
Salaries for lawyers in private practice vary, depending on their law practice areas, the number of years they have practiced law, the size of their law firm and their geographic location. In 2013, the median annual salary for first-year associates in law firms that employed two to 25 attorneys was $78,000, and for eighth-year associates, $101,000, according to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). The median annual salary for first-year associates at law firms of more than 700 lawyers was $160,000, and for eight-year-associates, $225,000. The median annual salary for first-year associates working in all sizes of law firm was $125,000, and for eighth-year associates, $170,000.
Attorneys in the Public Sector
Government lawyers work for local, state or federal government agencies as staff lawyers, public defenders or criminal prosecutors. Public interest attorneys, on the other hand, work for nonprofit organizations involved in social issues and legal reform. Some public interest attorneys work for legal services that assist clients on limited incomes. The "Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Report," a biennial survey by the NALP, shows these median annual salaries: legal services attorney, $43,000 to $65,000; public defenders, $50,500 to $78,600; local prosecuting attorneys, $50,000 to $77,000; and public-interest lawyers, $45,000 to $75,000.
Also known as corporate counsels and in-house counsels, general counsels have only one client. That client is the private company that employs them. Median salaries for general counsels ranged from $170,500, for counsels averaging nearly 12 years of experience, to $255,000 for general counsels averaging more than 17 years of experience, according to a salary survey by "InsideCounsel," a magazine for general counsels.
Salaries vary for J.D. graduates who work in careers other than the law. For example, in 2012, these occupations earned these estimated median annual salaries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: compliance officer, $62,020; detective or criminal investigator in a law enforcement agency, $74,300; financial analyst, $58,970; human resources manager, $99,720; law professor, $99,950; management analyst, $78,600; and mediator, $61,280.
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