Lawyers get a bad rap. They also get a good salary. The 603,310 lawyers employed in the U.S. in May 2014 earned $133,470 on average, or an hourly wage of $64.17, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their cost of living and location quotient are also highly dependent on where they work. These are the three important metrics that ValuePenguin used to determine what U.S. cities are the best places for these specialized professionals to call home (more on our methodology below).
Best Five Cities for Lawyers
After reviewing data from 374 cities and towns, these five emerged for their particularly hospitality toward attorneys. It comes as no surprise that all are home to sizable governments and businesses. Thirty-four percent of lawyers working today are with private firms.
1. New York
The Big Apple is the only city of our top five to rank among the top five in every category we considered: the three mentioned above and a fourth, the number of positions (vacant or otherwise) in the city. New York, which is teamed with the nearby White Plains and Wayne, N.J., in this data set, has 34 percent more jobs (55,480) than the next closest city in our study.
“New York literally has a lawyer on every block, depending on the neighborhood,” said Dmitriy Shakhnevich, who runs his own law firm, with offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan as well as New Jersey. “Some people hate using the word ‘hustle’ because is carries negative implications. But that’s really what it is. The competition is huge and consistent good work is the only way to survive. But at the end of the day, I can't say I'm ever bored at work. And how many people could say that?”
2. San Francisco
One of five California cities in our top 25, San Francisco overcomes the highest cost of living – it’s 100 percent more expensive to reside here than the average American city – to ascend to No. 2 overall. Lawyers here earn an average annual salary of $171,91 to help fray their costs; only nearby Silicon Valley-based lawyers earn more, with a yearly mark of $201,240. First-year associates at large, prestigious firms could expect to earn $160,000 in their first 12 months on the job.
3. Washington, D.C.
Our nation’s capital, which has fewer jobs than only New York City, does have the highest location quotient, meaning that there is more demand for lawyers’ services here than anywhere else in the country. Of course, it’s also home to the highest court in the land and the many lawyers that are practicing or legislating and want to step inside of it. Amy Odom, the director of litigation for the National Veterans Legal Services Program, said D.C. is great place for attorneys to network and that it’s obviously more immune to an economic downturn in the industry.
Of our top five, Miami is the most economical place to live, but it’s still 22 percent more expensive to live here than it is in Orlando, which ranked 20th on the list (see below). The southernmost of Florida’s major cities, Miami handles its fair share of immigration and international law cases like the other coastal cities on our list. Divorce proceedings are also an industry within an industry here, with 13 percent of Floridians identifying themselves as divorced.
In close proximity to Cambridge’s routinely-ranked Harvard law school, Boston narrowly beat out Los Angeles for the fifth spot. L.A. actually has almost twice as many jobs as Boston as well as an annual average salary that is $20,000 greater than its East Coast competitor, but Boston gained an edge with a significantly higher location quotient. These two cities, like the four listed above, have played host to their fair share of legal drama series’ on TV, as “Boston Legal” is a favorite of some of the working lawyers we polled.
Top 100 Cities for Lawyers
Cost of Living
|1||New York, NY||$167,560||55,480||2.31||168||7|
|San Francisco, CA||$171,910||10,260||2.12||200||8|
|Los Angeles, CA||$171,130||24,350||1.34||152||32|
|San Jose, CA||$201,240||5,050||1.16||187||47|
What’s it like lawyering in…?
SAN DIEGO, Calif., Ranked 21st
Richard A. Chapo of SoCallInternetLawyer.com: “You can pop over to the beach at the end of the day and relax with a swim in San Diego. San Diego lawyers also tend to be a bit more civil to each other than in other locations, but not excessively so… As odd as it sounds, (Los Angeles) attorneys constantly complain about the traffic when trying to get around town and to various courthouses.”
David Wilkinson of Wilkinson Finkbeiner: “I have five offices in five cities but have spent most of my time in San Diego and now Boston. Both law cultures are fairly laid back, and the attorneys that I work with or against are routinely cordial and easy to get along with. In San Diego, it was not atypical to routinely wear golf shirts to work and our opposing counsel would arrive to depositions and other non-court events in very casual clothes. On the East Coast, it is a little more formal, and most attorneys dress in suits or something similar.
“I’ve found that there are benefits to living in different areas of the country, and there are also cons. One of the difficulties practicing in Boston is that we have four or five months of winter and usually a couple months of snowfall. That makes getting to and from court and to meetings difficult on occasion. In Southern California, weather is rarely a problem. Additionally, different cities across the country have different competitive environments. There are over 800 family law attorneys in San Diego for example, so competition is fierce. In other markets, it is easier to break into the law field because there is less competition.”
CHICAGO, Ill., Ranked 26th
Jonathan Rosenfeld of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers: “The people in Chicago are really a tough, hard-working bunch who are grounded by Midwestern values. I really like meeting people with different backgrounds who call Chicago 'home.' Instantly we connect.”
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Ranked 37th
Nicholas W. Romanello of the Health Care District of Palm Beach County: “Practicing law in West Palm Beach is a unique experience. Palm Beach County is the largest County east of the Mississippi River. The size, diversity and complexity of the county makes for a challenging legal environment.
“Some of my law school classmates now practice in more rural locations. While the professional rigors are generally the same as more urban settings, having less lawyers makes for less professional competition.”
PHOENIX, Ari., Ranked 50th
Giancarlo G. Estrada of Kamper, Estrada Simmons: “It’s an interesting area because it is a unique mix of urban issues common to the large city it is sprinkled with rural issues. Because so many Phoenix residents come from other parts of the country then can be other issues that result from that.
“Some colleagues who have practiced in other areas like California or New York describe a very stressful practice and a lack of cooperation among colleagues in that area.”
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Ranked 56th
Michael Santucci of Santucci Priore, P.L.: “I practice in South Florida, which I believe is a more litigious area of the country than most. I would liken it to New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles in terms of the litigiousness of its citizens and business community. Attorneys from the central and northern part of Florida certainly view our legal community this way, which, at times, rises to the level of a stigma. However, I think there are few places in the country for a young attorney to get litigation experience in an highly aggressive and unforgiving setting. Starting here empowers a litigator to feel comfortable litigating anywhere in the United States in my opinion.
“I believe my friends in the New Jersey and New York are believe have more diverse options for employment because there is more of a variety of industries in the northeast. Most of the litigation I handle is in the federal courts. The federal courts are more uniform throughout the United States, as compared to the state court system where there are more local differences.”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Ranked 90th
Michael M. Giel of J. Demere Mason P.A.: “It’s the largest small town in Florida. The bar is very collegial, and if you’ve practiced here, it is virtually impossible to go to any hearing – or restaurant, or sports event – without seeing someone you know. Those lawyers who are professional are known for it. Those few who aren’t are also known. Because the legal community is so tight-knit, lawyers are incentivized to keep up professionalism and decorum – they’re repeat players who will be going against the same players in the future. This often fosters a little more predictability in litigation – there’s an understanding, say, that hearings will be quickly set or that frivolous discovery objections will be avoided.
“My friends in larger cities are worse off in that they face higher costs of living; Jacksonville is relatively inexpensive, and Florida has no state income tax. The higher salaries they receive due to the cost of living may be offset by the requirement to bill a greater number of hours to ensure profitability. From my experience litigating matters in Tampa and south Florida, they are not quite as collegial as Jacksonville, which means that certain matters can become a bit more time-consuming (and potentially unpleasant) to litigate. Commercial litigators in larger cities may be better off by a larger number of potential clients.”
On Topic: Education and Training
Bryant H. Dunivan Jr. of the Law Offices of Michael J. Owen: “Basically, I had played music in college and gotten a degree in philosophy at Florida Gulf Coast University (in 2009). I realized fairly late into that degree that I did not want to teach, so law school seemed to be the next logical step.
“After earning a “JD with litigation concentration (from) Western Michigan University (in 2012), I found it fairly easy (to be hired) because I had gone from being a student, working as an intern, then a law clerk, and finally an attorney with the same firm. I know others are not having such luck. I was very lucky. While students are in school, they have to take advantage of all the attorneys they interact with – I received job offers and internship offers at baseball games ten states away. You have to treat it as networking in that way.
“I was thrown right into the fire – drafting motions and attending hearings – prior to becoming an attorney. This was vital, I don’t think there was any better way to do it.”
On Topic: The Bar Exam
Adam Holguin of Brentz Holgquin Law Firm: “I would say the bar exam test your desire to be a lawyer, not your ability to be a skilled attorney. It demonstrates you are willing to work for something, and see it through, because it can be an arduous process.”
On Topic: Rigors vs. Rewards
Paul Saputo Jr. of Saputo Law Firm: “Clients are very demanding no matter the field in which you practice. The stress lawyers face to be the best, have the best client service, stay busy and get more clients is consuming, and usually these different goals are in tension with each other. (But) it feels really good to win a big battle.”
On Topic: Effect of Technology
Michael Santucci of Santucci Priore, P.L.: “The past few years, the federal court system has moved to mandatory electronic filing. So have the state Courts throughout the State of Florida. The Patent and Trademark Office and U.S. Copyright Office now provides certain advantages and discounts for electronic filing, and encourages electronic or phone communication. These changes are probably the most significant in the legal practice in over a generation. I think that younger attorneys have a bit of an advantage on this new system because often old attorneys, just by nature are set in their ways and resistant to change. Overall, I think these changes have led to a significantly reduction in use of resources such as paper, postage and labor and have ultimately led to savings to clients and more ease of practice for attorneys. However, expectations of attorneys, especially response times and timeframes to complete tasks are constantly on the rise due to technological advancements. Often these expectations can be unrealistic and overwhelming. I remember a time when clients would have to schedule a face-to-face consultation with an attorney to get a question answered, and then often, even after the consultation, would have to wait to receive a letter from the attorney, by regular mail, for a comprehensive answer. Today clients expect answers within 24 hours, and sometimes less.”
On Topic: Biggest Misconception
Peter C. Brehm of the Business Law Center: “That lawyers have no moral compass. There is some truth to the notion that lawyers will work on matters they don’t agree with. We are trained be advocates for other people, and the goals of every representation are set by our clients. If those goals are not illegal or violate our rules of ethics, we are charged with helping our clients to the best of our abilities, even if the goals are not what we would choose for ourselves. It does not mean lawyers lack morals, it means that our duty to our client is more important than our personal preferences.”
On Topic: Best Jokes
Estrada | Kamper, Estrada Simmons, LLP | Phoenix
“What do you get when you cross a lawyer with a demon from hell? Another lawyer.”
Michael F. Terry | Moulton, Ala.
“Did you hear they're using lawyers in lab experiments instead of rats? It seems there's an excess of lawyers. The scientists don't get attached to them like they did the rats, and there's some things a rat just won't do.”
Wilkinson | Wilkinson Finkbeiner | Boston, Mass.
“A man died and was taken to his place of eternal torment by the devil. As he passed raging fire pits and shrieking sinners, he saw a man he recognized as a lawyer snuggling up to a beautiful woman. 'That's unfair!' he cried. 'I have to roast for all eternity, and that lawyer gets to spend it with a beautiful woman.' 'Shut up,' barked the devil, jabbing the man with his pitchfork. 'Who are you to question that woman's punishment?'”
Chapo | SoCallInternetLawyer.com | San Diego, Calif.
“A lawyer goes in for a serious surgical procedure. He wakes up after the surgery in a dark room with thick curtains drawn over the window. A nurse comes in and says, ‘Oh, you’re finally awake.’ He says, ‘Yes, can I get some water and what’s with the curtains?’ The nurse says, ‘Sure. Oh, the building across the street is on fire, and we didn’t want you to think you had died when you woke up.’”
Romanello | Health Care District of Palm Beach County | West Palm Beach, Fla.
“An Italian proverb I try to keep in mind during contractual negotiations, disputes and mediations: A lawsuit is a fruit tree planted in a lawyer's garden.”
Chris Purcell | Purcell Law | Santa Ana, Calif.
“What is the difference between a dead skunk in the middle of the road and a dead attorney in the middle of the road? The skunk has skid marks in front of it.”
Saputo Jr. | Saputo Law Firm | Dallas, Texas
“What do you call a thousand lawyer chained together at the bottom of the ocean? A good start.”
Bjorn Hall | Fundrise | Washington, D.C.
“Oftentimes, people don't understand what I do since I'm a lawyer but not a litigator. The way I explain it is to say, ‘If I'm ever in a courtroom, it means something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.’”
Giel | J. Demere Mason P.A. | Jacksonville, Fla.
“How many lawyer jokes are there? Three. The rest really happened.”
Elizabeth Ricci | Rambana Ricci, P.L.L.C. | Tallahassee, Fla.
“Like lawyer jokes? Call a comedian next time you get in trouble.”
John J. Scroggin | Scroggin Company | Roswell, Ga.
“A tax lawyer is a person who is good with numbers but does not have enough personality to be an accountant.”
Shakhnevich | The Law Firm of Dmitriy Shakhnevich | Brooklyn, New York
“For some reason, I was never really a fan of lawyer jokes. Maybe because in every joke, there’s a grain of truth.”
These were the three key questions we asked in coming up with the list.
1. What can lawyers earn in the city?
We ranked the best cities for lawyers based on the median annual pay. Income is likely the most important factor people consider when starting their career or relocating elsewhere. A high salary in an expensive city, however, may be less attractive than a lower salary in an affordable town. Our next metric takes affordability into consideration.
2. How affordable is it to live in this city?
Now that we have the median salary, we’ll look next at the cost of living. The cost of living is a measure of how far earnings can be stretched. Cities with lower cost of living index numbers ranked higher in our study. For example, the average city is benchmarked at 100. A city with a cost of living index of 187, such as San Jose, Calif., would mean that generally speaking, living expenses are 65 percent more expensive compared to the average city.
3. What is the location quotient for lawyers in the city?
A place with a high median salary and low cost of living may seem perfect, but job opportunities may be limited. Our third factor accounts for this by favoring cities with high location quotients. Location quotient measures the concentration of lawyers in an area as a percentage of all occupations, and then compares that to the national average. We interpret a higher location quotient to mean a relatively higher demand for a lawyer’s services.