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best states for lawyers

Lawyers work in a variety of capacities. While many work in private and corporate legal offices, others work for federal, state and local governments. The particular specialties lawyers have may determine the place best for them to live to suit their professional needs. However, other location-based factors may also play into decisions on where lawyers choose to look for a job and make a home for themselves.

In this study, SmartAsset looked at some of the best states for lawyers according to six metrics. They include the number of lawyers per 1,000 workers, average annual income, five-year earnings and job growth, median home value and the percentage of law offices relative to total establishments. For details on data sources and how we put the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

Key Findings

  • Expensive real estate. Half of the top 10 places for lawyers rank among the 10 most expensive housing markets nationwide. They include Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, California, New York and Colorado.
  • Wide salary ranges. For the places in our top 10, there is a wide range of average annual earnings. In 2018, lawyers in Florida earned $128,920, the lowest average annual income of any place in our top 10. Meanwhile, lawyers in the District of Columbia earned the most, with an average annual income of almost 50% more than that, at $192,530.

1. Illinois

Our top state for lawyers based on the six metrics we considered is Illinois. Lawyers in Illinois have had high earnings growth over the past five years resulting in high average incomes. Between 2014 and 2018, average annual earnings for lawyers rose 22.70%, bringing the 2018 mean income for a lawyer in Illinois to $152,980.

Growing salaries for lawyers can go a long way in Illinois. It is very affordable compared to most other states in our top 10. The Census Bureau reported that in 2017 the median home value was $195,300. Notably, many of the lawyers in Illinois may be concentrated in Chicago, where median home value are generally higher. However, Chicago still has more affordable housing options than many other major U.S. cities.

2. Massachusetts

Massachusetts ranks in the top 10 of all states in our study and D.C. for four of the six metrics we included in this study: number of lawyers per 1,000 workers, average income, employment growth and the concentration of law offices. In 2018, there were 5.16 lawyers per 1,000 workers in Massachusetts – 7.22% more than in 2014 – and they had an average annual income of $165,610. Moreover, the Census Bureau reported in 2016 that the percentage of law offices per total establishments in the state was 2.51%.

3. District of Columbia

Home to the federal government, the District of Columbia is a hot spot for lawyers. In 2018, D.C. had 44.47 lawyers for every 1,000 employees, the No. 1 ranking for that metric. New York, the second-ranking state in this metric, does not even come close. In 2018, there were just 8.19 lawyers for every 1,000 employees in New York, about a fifth of the number of lawyers per 1,000 employees in D.C. With so many other lawyers working in the area, D.C. may be the top spot for lawyers interested in working at larger firms or for new lawyers looking for more support from their peers or upper-level guidance.

In addition to the benefits of working in proximity to many other people in their field, lawyers in D.C. are well compensated. The average annual income for a lawyer in D.C. in 2018 was $192,530, well above that of all other states in our study.

4. California

With a number of large cities for lawyers to work in, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and its capital, Sacramento, California ranks fourth on our list. California has the second-highest average income and five-year job growth for lawyers of any state in our study, plus D.C. In 2018, the mean annual income for a lawyer in California was $171,550, and there were 16.42% more lawyers there than in 2014.

For lawyers looking to save, California may not be the best place. At $509,400 in 2018, median home values in California are the third-highest of any state in our study, plus D.C.

5. Florida

Florida ranks third on two of our density measures, the number of lawyers per 1,000 employees and law offices as a percentage of total establishments. In 2018, there were 5.49 lawyers in Florida for every 1,000 workers, and in 2016, law offices made up 3.04% of total establishments in the state. In fact, Florida has the second-highest law office density of any state in our top 10, following only the District of Columbia.

Lawyers’ earnings growth in Florida lags behind eight of our other top-10 states. In 2014, the average annual income for lawyers was $122,020 and it grew to be $128,920 in 2018. While this is an increase of almost $7,000, in percentage terms it is only 5.65%, which falls below the average earnings growth across all states of 6.58%.

6. New York

With many top law offices located in New York City, it is unsurprising that New York State ranks sixth on our list. Lawyers in the state are well compensated. New York has the third-highest average income for lawyers of any state in our study, plus D.C. In 2018, lawyers earned an average of $167,110. However, New York may be a more competitive place for lawyers than other states on our list. As previously noted, with 8.19 lawyers for every 1,000 employees, New York has the second-highest concentration in our study of lawyers per workers. But this high concentration is not matched with a particularly high density of law offices: At 2.38%, the state ranks 15th overall for this metric.

7. Georgia

Georgia has had impressive growth in the number of lawyers residing in the state over the past five years. Between 2014 and 2018, there was an increase of employed lawyers in Georgia of 34.86%, the highest rate in our study overall. While this growth was accompanied by a 2.72% drop in average annual earnings, the mean annual income for lawyers is still relatively high. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2017 that lawyers in Georgia earn $128,930 annually on average.

8. Colorado

Colorado ranks in the top 10 for half the metrics we considered. They include the number of lawyers per 1,000 workers, average income and earnings growth. According to the BLS, there were 4.94 lawyers per 1,000 workers in 2018 and average income was $147,560. Moreover, the average income in 2014 for lawyers working in Colorado was only $130,620, implying an earnings growth of 12.97% over the past five years.

9. Texas

Texas ranks in the top half of our rankings for each metric we considered, with average income for lawyers as its highest-ranking metric. In 2018, the average annual income for lawyers in Texas was $150,250. The state saw an average earnings growth of 6.38% over the past five years, from 2014 to 2018, which is a helpful factor when considering one’s ability to afford a home in the state. According to Census estimates, the median home value there in 2017 was $172,200.

10. Connecticut

Connecticut rounds out our list. It is the only state in our top 10 with negative employment growth over the past five years. In 2014, there were 7,580 employed lawyers in Connecticut, and in 2018, there were 7,270, a decrease of 4.09%. However, though the number of lawyers in Connecticut is decreasing, it remains a strong option for lawyers based on our other metrics. It ranks in the top 10 for its 2018 average annual income for lawyers as well as for its law offices as a percentage of all establishments, at $153,640 and 2.47% respectively.

Data and Methodology

In order to find the best states to be a lawyer, SmartAsset looked at data for 48 states, excluding Delaware and North Dakota due to insufficient data, along with the District of Columbia. Specifically, we compared the 48 states and the District of Columbia across the following six metrics:

  • Lawyers per 1,000 workers. This is the number of lawyers per 1,000 full-time workers. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for 2018.
  • Average income. This is the average annual income for lawyers. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for 2018.
  • Five-year income growth. This is the percentage increase in the average income for lawyers between 2014 and 2018. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Five-year employment growth. This is the percentage increase in the number of employed lawyers between 2014 and 2018. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Median home value. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2017 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Law office density. This is the percentage of law offices per total establishments. Data comes from the 2016 Business Patterns Survey.

To create our final score. we ranked each state, plus the District of Columbia, in each metric. Then we found each state’s average ranking, giving equal weighting to all metrics. We used this average ranking to create our final score. The state with the best average ranking received a 100. The state with the worst average ranking received a 0.

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  • Trusted personal finance advice. A financial advisor can help you make smarter financial decisions such as moving or being in better control of your money after you land a new job. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Questions about our study? Contact us at press@smartasset.com

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Natee Meepian

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