Lowest Paid Legal Jobs

Judges desk in court room
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Are you in law school and wondering what kinds of law specialties make the least money? This should not, by any means, turn you away from any of these legal careers, but you need to be aware they won’t bring in the big bucks as a BigLaw job may. The following are some of the lowest-paid legal jobs, for your reference.

Public Defender

Public defenders have the tough job of representing criminals who cannot pay for or cannot find their representation for an upcoming hearing or trial. They are notoriously overworked and underpaid, as are many people in the public service sector of the law. The median salary for a public defender is $61,000, although it can reach as high as $100,000 if you’re in certain cities.

Legal Aid Attorney

Legal Aid attorneys provide counsel to people who cannot afford to pay for their own lawyer. These are public interest jobs that many lawyers get a great deal of satisfaction out of, even if they don’t make a large amount of money. The median salary for a legal services attorney is $42,000, but that can increase to around $63,000 in certain states and after many years of experience.

Immigration Attorney

Immigration is a hot-button issue, and immigration attorneys are needed all across the country because of it. Where there are large pockets of immigrants, immigration attorneys will likely be able to find work. They represent clients who are new to the country and are dealing with other aspects of the government, whether they committed a crime or are having trouble with filing their immigration paperwork. The median salary for an immigration attorney is $67,000, and some lucky parts of the country pay up to $106,000 per year.


Surprisingly (and unfortunately), there are some law school graduates who have only been able to find employment as paralegals. Paralegals—sometimes called legal secretaries—are traditionally people who have specialized training and who cannot practice law. However, when the economy is tough, there are barred law graduates competing for paralegal jobs as well.

Paralegals earn a median salary of $47,000, although they can be paid as high as $65,000. While some law firms report that around two out of five applicants for paralegal positions are law school graduates, many firms aren’t willing to hire JDs for paralegal positions. It is understandable since they are extremely overqualified and have been trained in a different skill set, but with law firm associate jobs hard to come by, new law school graduates are applying for what they can find.

Times are tough—in one very extreme case, a Boston law office offered a starting salary of just $10,000 per year to a recent law graduate. Boston College Law advertised a job on their careers site at a small local firm that was expected to pay around $10,000 for the first year. When you do the math, this equals an hourly wage of only $4.81, which is well below the national minimum wage and definitely less than it would take to live in Boston. While this is an extreme case, the conclusion can be made that some law jobs don’t pay the high salary that is often promised to young lawyers fresh out of law school.

Do you have a passion for one of the lower-paying fields of law? That is perfectly legitimate, as long as money isn’t your only source of happiness. A 2015 study released in the George Washington Law Review stated that lawyers with the lowest pay reported more of a sense of happiness than those in high-pay, high-stakes legal jobs.

While salary is an important component (since you’ll likely have many student loans to pay off after you’re done with law school), you should also make sure that you are making the right choice for you—career satisfaction will help prevent burnout, which is a common problem in the legal profession.