Like any profession, law practice has various subsets and divisions, and exactly how much a lawyer earns will depend on their area of expertise. Some lawyers earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, while others sit well below the six-figure hallmark of the fictionalized lawyers we see on screen. 

For decades, the media has portrayed criminal law as the pinnacle of law practice. The generic term “lawyer” has almost come to be synonymous with criminal law thanks to fictionalized accounts of the practice. However, on-screen portrayals are a far cry from the truth. Surprisingly, criminal lawyers are not among the top 5 highest-earning lawyers, and the real high-rollers of the legal world are not who many would think.

Medical Malpractice Lawyers 

Medical malpractice lawyers earn an average of $250,000 annually, securing the top spot as the highest-paid type of lawyer. They most frequently handle medical malpractice cases, representing a plaintiff who has sustained a personal injury due to medical malpractice. Birth injury cases are also common medical malpractice attorneys. 

While malpractice suits make up a large part of a medical lawyer’s job, medical lawyers tend to be well-versed in many other divisions of the law, some of which include:

  • Bioethics
  • Public Policy
  • Medical Benefits
  • Insurance Law
  • Contract Laws

Medical malpractice attorneys also frequently represent healthcare institutions like hospitals and clinics and provide them with legal counsel on topics such as medical law guidelines and ethical practices. 

As is common with all types of lawyers, medical lawyers spend much of their time conducting research and preparing legal documents.

IP Attorneys

IP stands for intellectual property, which refers to anything that is extricated from the human mind and made to be sold. IP attorneys typically represent clients claiming the rights to an idea or invention, and handle cases related to patents, trademarks, and copyright infringement. They are the second highest-earning type of lawyer, earning around $140,000 on average.

IP attorneys have to be incredibly specialized in patent infringement law, and sharp verbal skills are a must. As the lines of intellectual property can be somewhat blurry, IP lawyers often have to prove cases without hard evidence, meaning persuasive rhetoric is vital in winning cases.

Intellectual property has a broad definition, so IP attorneys must be up to speed on several topics. Common examples of intellectual property include:

  • Recipes
  • Technological inventions
  • Designs
  • Works of art or literature
  • Music
  • Brand names 

Outside of the courtroom, IP attorneys are responsible for producing documents used to file for patents and trademarks. They also negotiate with trademark offices on behalf of their clients and spend a good deal of time monitoring and rectifying the misuse of their client’s intellectual property.

Trial Attorneys

Trial attorneys earn roughly $100,000 per year, making them the third highest-earning lawyers. While the name seems to suggest that they spend the majority of their career in the courtroom, trial attorneys are subject to just as much paperwork as medical lawyers or IP attorneys. They are tasked with reviewing case files and preparing and filling out documents before a trial. And it often happens that cases are settled outside of the courtroom. 

As the nature of cases varies widely for trial attorneys, they are required to know the sum of many areas of the law. Trial attorneys are often well-versed in areas such as:

  • Criminal Law
  • Property Law
  • Contract Law
  • Constitutional Law
  • Torts and Personal Injury Law

Trials often come down to particulars, so trial attorneys must have a keen eye for small details that can make or break a case. They must also be able to remain calm and collected under pressure, as much of the job involves them using their specialized knowledge of the law to think on their feet when challenged.

Tax Attorneys

Tax attorneys can earn anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000 per year but tend to land on the higher side of the spectrum. Tax attorneys negotiate with government tax agencies like the IRS on behalf of the company or organization they represent to settle things like tax disputes and liabilities.

As the United States tax system is volatile in nature, tax attorneys are often conducting research for the duration of their careers in order to stay up to date with changes to tax law. They are responsible for relaying changes in the law to their client so that the company’s activity does not violate tax law.

Tax law can be dense and confusing, so tax attorneys are highly sought after for their in-depth knowledge of complex tax policies. Tax attorneys must be well versed in finance, accounting, and math, as they will be required to help their clients with tasks such as settling back taxes and filing returns.

Corporate Lawyers

Salaries for corporate lawyers vary widely. Some corporate attorneys earn above $100,000 per year, while others earn below $70,000. Corporate lawyers provide legal counsel to businesses on matters such as the legal rights and responsibilities of the company. They also negotiate business deals on behalf of the company they represent.

Corporate law is comprised of many smaller subsets that include:

  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • E-commerce, media, and technology
  • Real estate
  • Corporate finance
  • Insolvency
  • Banking

Corporate lawyers are responsible for drafting and reviewing documents like business proposals and contracts and assessing whether or not a business deal is profitable for their client.

Corporate lawyers tend to have excellent interpersonal skills due to the transactional nature of the job and are generally experts in verbal persuasion, customer service, and client relations.