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What Do Solo and Small Firm Lawyers Earn?

by Carolyn Elefant on March 19, 2010 · 11 comments

in Solo Practice Trends, What Solos Earn

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Biglaw has its annual and closely watched profits per partnership or PPP extravaganza, while Above the Law devotes an entire category to biglaw associate salaries and cuts.  But where can lawyers considering solo or small firm practice get a sense for what solo and small firm lawyers earn?

The solo/small firm salary question is tougher to answer.  Because there are so many solos, simply gathering a sampling is a chore.  Moreover, most data collection comes through state and local bars which are populated by solos with smaller local or regional practices.  Thus, data samplings may exclude solos with national, more "biglaw" oriented practices who may earn more on average.   

More importantly, because solos control their workload, one solo’s earnings may not be representative of another’s potential.  During the years that I worked part time, limiting my billable time to sometimes as little as 40 hours a month, I earned a fraction of what I do now.  My salary at that time was not indicative of my full time schedule (and indeed, now, I don’t consider myself at full capacity because I still turn down work to make time for family).  Thus, my income would not reflect the potential of a solo willing to put in a 60 hour work week.

Still, there are some resources and surveys on earnings of solo and small firm lawyers that can be used to glean a very broad idea of the averages.  Here’s what I found in my most recent trip around the Internet:

Irreverant Lawyer rounds up earnings surveys from Texas, Nevad, New York, Wisconsin and New Mexico.  But not Arizona because that information is behind a pay wall.
  

Colorado Economic Survey 2008

2002 Oregon Survey

Massachusetts Salary & Survey Charts 2005

Florida Bar 2006 Economic Survey

Indiana regional law schools and income, 2005, prepared by Professor Bill Henderson at the ELS Blog

Solo in Chicago, Financials Jan – May 2009 H/T to Chicago solo Peter Olson for giving us a look at what one solo earns.

Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011

If you have any other economic data, please send it my way, or post it in the comments below.

  • http://www.KostroLaw.com Paul G. Kostro, Esq.

    Perhaps a more work/family-dedication neutral indicator is the standard hourly rate that solos value their professional time. Are there any sources for that information?

  • http://www.KostroLaw.com Paul G. Kostro, Esq.

    Perhaps a more work/family-dedication neutral indicator is the standard hourly rate that solos value their professional time. Are there any sources for that information?

  • Ted A. Waggoner

    The Henderson study you quote is part of a larger study commissioned by the Indiana State Bar Assoc. SSF Conference of 2007. It went far beyond the Law School issue. I will send you a copy.

  • Ted A. Waggoner

    The Henderson study you quote is part of a larger study commissioned by the Indiana State Bar Assoc. SSF Conference of 2007. It went far beyond the Law School issue. I will send you a copy.

  • http://www.bestratedlawyer.com/ jamal

    The solo field is dieing, just like the rest of the industry. In 10 years much of the law will be outsourced, or at least the parts that already fill doc review’s slums, and growth will be stagnant or receding.

  • http://www.bestratedlawyer.com/ jamal

    The solo field is dieing, just like the rest of the industry. In 10 years much of the law will be outsourced, or at least the parts that already fill doc review’s slums, and growth will be stagnant or receding.

  • http://www.lisastewartlaw.com L Stewart

    Working in the southeast, the Florida data is probably the most relevant to me. It is somewhat encouraging, but as a recent graduate and new solo, I’ll believe it when I see it.

  • http://www.lisastewartlaw.com L Stewart

    Working in the southeast, the Florida data is probably the most relevant to me. It is somewhat encouraging, but as a recent graduate and new solo, I’ll believe it when I see it.

  • http://www.workingsmall.com Andrea

    The last few years there’s been an economic survey before Minnesota CLE’s annual Solo and Small Firms conference. Here are the 2009 results: http://www.smallfirmsuccess.org/the-practice/the-practice/small-firm-economic-survey-2009

  • http://www.workingsmall.com Andrea

    The last few years there’s been an economic survey before Minnesota CLE’s annual Solo and Small Firms conference. Here are the 2009 results: http://www.smallfirmsuccess.org/the-practice/the-practice/small-firm-economic-survey-2009

  • Kenneth_Yoon

    My old boss told me that a solo could expect to max out at about $250k a year. That was said to me several years ago. Now the number is probably a bit higher. But it is based on about 1500 billed a year at $250 an hour. He also said that it is hard to do that.

    I think this is fairly accurate. So to calculate solo wages, just add up about 1000 hours, an estimated rate and minus costs (including write offs).

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