6 law specialisms that have the highest-paid lawyers
Updated 16 August 2023
While lawyers might have a broad knowledge of the law, they tend to specialise in a particular aspect of legal work such as criminal or corporate law. Working in law can be lucrative and some specialisms in law are more highly paid than others. If you're looking for work as a lawyer, it can be helpful to understand which areas of law pay the most. In this article, we look at six law specialisms that have the highest-paid lawyers, discuss other factors that might influence your earnings potential and share some tips for choosing an area to specialise in.
6 law specialisms that have the highest-paid lawyers
Below are six law specialisms that have the highest-paid lawyers:
1. Corporate law
Corporate law is the highest-paid legal specialism and the national average salary for a corporate lawyer is £70,850 per year. Corporate lawyers work on behalf of organisations and might also directly work for an organisation. They conduct due diligence tasks during mergers and acquisitions, give structure to transactions, draft contracts and agreements and negotiate deals. The goal of a corporate lawyer is to make agreements clear and legally binding and minimise the risk of an agreement being problematic for the business in the future.
2. Human rights law
Human rights law can command a high salary and can also be rewarding work. A human rights lawyer might work for a law firm and specialise in human rights cases or they might work for a human rights organisation or charity. Human rights law involves challenging discrimination and safeguarding the freedoms and rights of individuals. In this area, lawyers work closely with clients who have been victims of human rights violations. Some experienced human rights lawyers also deal with high profile international cases.
3. Employment law
Lawyers who specialise in employment law can earn a national average salary of £52,920 per year. This area of law covers legal matters that relate to employees and the workplace. Employment lawyers help to ensure that companies follow legal and non-discriminatory recruitment practices. They're also involved in employee relations and handle serious disputes between employees and employers. These specialists might work for law firms or earn employment with an organisation to work on employment law issues in-house.
4. Criminal law
Criminal law can also be a lucrative area. Lawyers working in this specialism earn a national average salary of £51,928 per year. Criminal lawyers prosecute or defend people who are facing accusations of committing a crime. Regardless of the circumstances, criminal lawyers act fairly and impartially to ensure that the legal rights of anyone accused of committing a crime are upheld. Criminal lawyers work closely with clients and usually also attend court trials and question defendants, witnesses and victims in the process.
5. Intellectual property law
Intellectual property lawyers can also be highly paid. Lawyers working in this area earn a national average salary of £47,794 per year. These professionals specialise in helping businesses to acquire, protect and use intellectual property such as patents, trademarks and copyrights. Lawyers in this field might work with a broad range of intellectual property claims but some people also specialise further as patent attorneys. A patent attorney is a type of lawyer that specialises in drafting patents and enforcing inventors' rights. These individuals tend to have a science, engineering or mathematics degree before entering this profession.
6. Clinical negligence law
Clinical negligence lawyers earn a national average salary of £41,756 per year. This area of law involves helping clients to get compensation if they're injured as a result of medical negligence. Lawyers working in this area might also defend medical practitioners against clinical negligence allegations. Clinical negligence lawyers work closely with clients to gather evidence and present a case. Some clients might have suffered life-changing injuries as a consequence of their medical treatment so helping them to obtain compensation can be highly rewarding for lawyers.
What other factors can influence your salary as a lawyer?
While your legal specialism can have an impact on your earnings as a lawyer, several other factors can also have an influence. Below are some of the other factors that can influence your salary as a lawyer:
The location you work in can also impact your salary. For instance, lawyers working in London or other large cities are likely to earn higher salaries than those who work outside them. If you'd like to maximise your earnings potential as a lawyer, it might be worth considering relocating to earn a higher salary.
Level of seniority
As with most careers, your level of seniority affects how much you can earn as a lawyer. Trainee lawyers and paralegals typically earn less than fully qualified lawyers. Once qualified, your earnings might increase as you gain more experience or work on more high-profile cases. Regardless of the area of specialism, partners in law firms can expect to earn substantially more than junior professionals.
Size of the firm
The size of the law firm or business you work for can have an impact on your earnings regardless of the area of law you specialise in. Larger, well-established firms are often likely to pay higher salaries than smaller organisations. As a result, getting a job with a large law firm can be very competitive.
Type of employer
Your salary as a lawyer might also depend on the type of employer you work for. For instance, lawyers who work for private practices tend to earn more than their counterparts who work for a business as part of an in-house legal team. Despite this, if you work in an in-house legal team, you can still expect your salary to increase as you gain experience and seniority.
The average salaries for lawyers
The national average salary for a lawyer is £50,536 per year. This takes into account the salaries for lawyers that work at a variety of levels for a range of employers and with different legal specialisms. This means that it's possible to earn considerably more or less than this figure, depending on your individual circumstances.
The average salary can also vary significantly throughout the country. For instance, lawyers in London earn an average of £64,667 per year. In contrast, you can earn less than the national average in some locations, such as Birmingham, where the average salary for a lawyer is £45,967 per year.
Trainee lawyers have a lower starting salary than lawyers who are fully qualified. The national average salary for a trainee lawyer is £35,952 per year. Trainee lawyers who work in one of the most lucrative areas of law, such as corporate law, for a larger firm may be able to earn a higher salary.
Law firm partners can earn significantly more than trainee and fully qualified lawyers. The national average salary for a law firm partner is £88,695 per year. Law firm partners in some locations also have the potential to earn over £100,000 per year.
Tips for choosing an area of law to specialise in
Below are some tips that can help you decide which area of law to specialise in:
Think about what interests you
When choosing an area of law to specialise in, it's important to consider which areas interest you more than others. Choosing an area that you enjoy and find interesting means that you're more likely to enjoy your job and find it rewarding. To do this, it's a good idea to make a list of all the areas you're interested in and then consider the various other factors that might influence your decision.
Consider your skills
Different types of lawyers benefit from having different skills so it's worth considering your own skills before deciding on the area of law you wish to specialise in. Finding out what skills are useful for the fields you're interested in and comparing them to your existing skills can help you decide whether a particular area would be suitable for you. Moreover, if you're committed to working in a specific area of law, finding out the skills that this area requires can help you to develop them yourself.
Think about your long-term goals
It's also worthwhile to think about your long-term goals when choosing a law specialism. You may wish to choose an area that helps you work towards your overall personal and professional goals. This can also make you more motivated to succeed in your job.
Consider your academic background
It's also sensible to think about your academic background and what fields of law are most suitable for you. Lawyers come from a variety of backgrounds and many have studied subjects other than law. If you studied law at university, it's worth considering which areas you studied and were successful in because this can be a good indicator as to which areas of law you're likely to excel in as a lawyer.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries and the quoted websites at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
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