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Is Delaware the Best-Paying State for Lawyers?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on November 30, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

'It's Good Being First.' Delaware's slogan turns out to be true -- again.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hottest spot on the map for new lawyers is Delaware. The report shows that the first state in the union is also the highest paying for lawyers based on cost-of-living adjusted salaries. The magic number is $132,446 annually.

Best Adjusted Salaries

Delaware law firms do not necessarily pay as well as big firms in New York and other states. Led by Cravath Swain, New York law firms recently set the mark at $180,000 for first-year associates. Large market law firms from Los Angeles to Washington are expected to follow.

Delaware's largest firms have raised starting salaries to between $150,000 to $160,000. David White, managing partner at Wilmington's McCarter & English, said many factors bring attorneys to Delaware. In addition to good pay, he said, young lawyers should be attracted to the legal culture.

"A young lawyer will not get swallowed up in a large city like New York or Boston or Philadelphia," White said. "There is a lot of mentoring that goes on."

According to a U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, Delaware also ranked first overall in a national survey of 1,203 in-house general counsel, senior litigators or attorneys, and other senior executives at companies with at least $100 million in annual revenues. Corporate counsel ranked the country's 50 legal systems in 10 categories, including treatment of tort and contract litigation, judges' competence, and juries' fairness. Delaware scored first in six areas, and second in the other four.

"An examination of individual state evaluations, however, reveals wide disparity among those states that are doing the best job and those states that are doing the worst job, with the highest performing state (Delaware), scoring 77 out of a possible 100," the report says.

Money Isn't Everything, Is It?

While Delaware has long been known for its corporate-friendly environment, it is now gaining a reputation for its adjusted salaries and its legal quality of life. Salaries are lower in Delaware than big market states. Smaller firms pay far less, and new deputy attorney generals or assistant public defenders in Delaware usually make $61,837 -- or $31.71 an hour.

But Brendan O'Neill, the state's chief public defender, said the attraction to the public defender's office is not financial. "You can have a meaningful, interesting law practice and still have a balanced life, but you won't get rich," he said.

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