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Behind the Numbers: Know a Criminal Law Attorney's Salary


Criminal law attorneys play a critical role in the justice system, representing clients facing criminal charges. Apart from the high stakes and intense nature of their work, many are also curious about the financial aspect of this profession. How much do criminal law attorneys earn? What factors influence their salary? This blog aims to delve into these questions and provide a comprehensive understanding of the criminal law attorney salary landscape.

Know the Average Criminal Defense Lawyer Salary

The salary of a criminal defense lawyer can vary based on factors such as experience, location, and the size of the law firm. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for lawyers is $126,930. However, this figure can be higher or lower for criminal defense lawyers, depending on their specialization and geographic location.

In general, criminal defense lawyers who work in large law firms or in metropolitan areas tend to earn higher salaries than those in smaller firms or rural areas. Additionally, lawyers with several years of experience or who have established a successful practice may command higher fees for their services.

Salary in Different Practice Areas

Lawyers' salaries can vary widely depending on their area of specialization. Criminal defense lawyers, for example, may earn less than lawyers in other practice areas, such as corporate law or intellectual property law. According to the BLS, the median annual wages for lawyers in different practice areas are as follows:

  • Corporate lawyers: $126,930
  • Intellectual property lawyers: $148,770
  • Trial lawyers: $99,000
  • Criminal lawyers: Varies based on experience and location

It's important to note that these figures are median salaries and can vary based on factors such as location, experience, and the size of the law firm.

Factors Affecting Criminal Law Attorney Salary


As with most professions, experience plays a crucial role in determining a criminal law attorney's salary. Entry-level attorneys typically earn less than those with several years of experience. Experienced attorneys often have a more substantial client base and may charge higher fees for their services.


Location is another significant factor influencing criminal law attorney salaries. Attorneys practicing in major metropolitan areas or areas with a high cost of living generally command higher salaries than those in rural areas.

Type of Practice

The type of practice can also impact an attorney's salary. Criminal law attorneys working for large law firms or in private practice may earn more than those working in public defender's offices or nonprofit organizations.


Specialization in a particular area of criminal law, such as white-collar crime or drug offenses, can also affect an attorney's salary. Attorneys with specialized expertise often command higher fees for their services.

Billing Structure

The billing structure can vary among criminal law attorneys. Some may charge hourly rates, while others may work on a contingency fee basis or charge a flat fee for specific services. The billing structure can impact the overall income of an attorney.

Why Is A Good Criminal Defense Attorney So Expensive?

The cost of hiring a criminal defense attorney can vary widely, with some lawyers charging hundreds of dollars per hour for their services. There are several reasons why a good criminal defense attorney may cost more than lawyers in other practice areas:

Specialized Knowledge

Criminal defense law is complex and requires specialized knowledge and expertise. Lawyers who specialize in this area often spend years developing their skills and staying abreast of changes in the law.

High Stakes

Criminal cases can have serious consequences, including prison time, fines, and a criminal record. As such, clients are often willing to pay a premium for experienced legal representation.

Time and Resources

Defending a criminal case can be time-consuming and requires significant resources. Criminal Lawyers may need to conduct investigations, interview witnesses, and prepare legal documents, all of which can add to the cost of legal representation.

Reputation and Track Record

Experienced criminal defense attorneys with a track record of success may command higher fees due to their reputation and the perceived value of their services.

Different Kinds of Legal Fees

There are several types of legal fees that criminal defense attorneys may charge for their services. These include:

Hourly Rate

Many criminal defense attorneys charge an hourly rate for their services. This rate can vary based on factors such as the lawyer's experience, the complexity of the case, and the geographic location.

Flat Fee

Some criminal defense attorneys may charge a flat fee for certain services, such as representing a client in court or negotiating a plea deal. This fee is typically agreed upon upfront and does not change, regardless of the amount of time or work required.

Contingency Fee

In some cases, criminal defense attorneys may work on a contingency fee basis, where they only receive payment if they win the case or negotiate a favorable settlement. This fee is usually a percentage of the amount recovered in the case.

Types of Criminal Cases

client with criminal lawyer

Criminal defense lawyers handle a wide range of criminal cases, from minor infractions to serious felonies. Some common types of criminal cases handled by criminal defense lawyers include:

DUI/DWI: Driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases involve individuals who have been arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Drug Crimes: Drug crimes involve the possession, distribution, or trafficking of illegal drugs. These cases can range from simple possession charges to more serious offenses involving large quantities of drugs.

Assault and Battery: Assault and battery cases involve allegations of physical violence against another person. These cases can range from simple misdemeanor assaults to more serious felony charges.

Theft and Fraud: Theft and fraud cases involve allegations of stealing or deceiving others for financial gain. These cases can include shoplifting, embezzlement, and identity theft.

White-Collar Crimes: White-collar crimes involve non-violent offenses committed for financial gain. These crimes can include fraud, insider trading, and money laundering.

Amount of Tax to Pay as a Criminal Lawyer

As a criminal lawyer, the amount of tax you pay depends on your income, deductions, and other factors. Criminal lawyers typically fall into the category of high-income earners, so they may be subject to higher tax rates.

Additionally, self-employed lawyers may need to pay self-employment taxes, which include Social Security and Medicare taxes. It's important to consult with a tax professional to understand your specific tax obligations and take advantage of any deductions or credits available to you.

You may also like to readKnow the Top Expert Criminal Defense Lawyers in NYC


Criminal defense attorneys play a crucial role in the legal system, representing individuals accused of crimes and ensuring they receive fair treatment under the law. While the salary of a criminal defense lawyer can vary based on several factors, including experience, location, and the size of the law firm, these lawyers often command high fees for their services due to the specialized nature of their work and the high stakes involved in criminal cases. By understanding the factors that influence criminal defense lawyer salaries and the types of legal fees associated with criminal defense cases, individuals can better appreciate the value of these skilled legal professionals.


What is the mean income of a criminal attorney in the United States?

The average salary for a Criminal Lawyer in the US is around $81,000 to $150,000 per year, depending on factors such as experience, location, and the size of the law firm.

What are some variables that affect the pay of criminal lawyers in the United States?

The average salary for a Criminal Lawyer in the US is around $84,000 per year, but this can vary widely based on several factors. Experience level, geographic location, the size of the law firm, and the lawyer's reputation and track record can all impact salary. Additionally, lawyers in larger cities or with specialized expertise may command higher salaries.

Are there any other advantages or privileges that criminal attorneys in the US usually receive?

Some firms may offer additional benefits or perks to Criminal Lawyers, such as health insurance, retirement plans, flexible work arrangements, and bonuses based on performance.

In the US, how may a criminal lawyer bargain for better pay?

To negotiate a higher salary as a Criminal Lawyer, it's important to highlight your experience, skills, and accomplishments. Research salary ranges for your location and level of experience, and be prepared to discuss how you can add value to the firm.

Are there any noteworthy patterns or observations about US criminal lawyer salaries?

Recent trends show an increase in demand for Criminal Lawyers, particularly those with expertise in digital forensics and cybercrime. Additionally, there is a growing trend towards alternative fee arrangements, such as flat fees or contingency fees, which can impact salary structures for Criminal Lawyers.

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