Like many professionals, lawyers are a highly variable bunch. In fact, the legal profession is increasingly fragmented and chaotic. Since the 1980s, the field has been wracked by a dramatic increase in the number of law school graduates as well as changes to the types of activities in which typical lawyers engage. To make matters worse, many "expensive" lawyers are being replaced by lower-cost actuaries, accountants and paralegals. While these types of lawyers aren't losing their jobs in droves, they're finding it more difficult to secure lucrative jobs immediately upon graduating from law school.
In the current economic environment, many law firms expect new hires to work 80 or 90 hours per week in order to prove that they're passionate about their profession. Lawyers who can't handle such workloads typically seek lower-paying jobs within the legal milieu or change professions altogether. It should be no surprise that the folks who prove unwilling to work such long hours must settle for significant pay cuts in their new positions.
Given the legal profession's inherent variety, it can be difficult to generalize about the average monthly earnings of the typical lawyer. After all, an individual lawyer's earnings may vary from month to month in accordance with the number of hours that he or she bills during that time frame. However, there are a few basic guidelines that can illuminate this often-opaque system of compensation.
First, the legal profession has two basic "tiers." The first tier encompasses the private sphere of "corporate" law as well as the high-powered world of "federal" law. Most "corporate" lawyers work as in-house counselors at large, recognizable private companies or for major law firms that specialize in performing complex legal work for such outfits. These individuals typically reside in major business centers like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. They may earn starting salaries of $125,000 or more per year. This translates to more than $10,000 per month.
"Federal" lawyers typically work for various agencies of the federal government or the lobbying firms that help facilitate these agencies' activities. Most of these lawyers reside in the Washington, D.C. area. They may also earn upwards of $100,000 after putting in just a few years of work.
On the other hand, lawyers who work in the second tier are generally employed by nonprofit agencies or state governments. Some of these individuals may also perform "back-office" work at smaller private firms. Second-tier lawyers are typically compensated to the tune of $50,000 to $75,000 per year. This translates to about $5,000 per month.