Contract Attorneys, Job Searches, Money

So How Much Do Contract Attorneys Really Make?

A good day’s work… you know, before taxes.

Welcome, intrepid readers. We have our first column in the books, and we are already receiving interesting tips about the seedy underbelly of being “licensed to practice law in at least one jurisdiction” (as most advertisements for contract attorney jobs artfully put it). Keep them coming — learning juicy tidbits from the ghetto of the legal world is more fulfilling than coding documents.

This is Above the Law, and I know what keeps all of you clicking away… it’s all about the money money money. So what kind of a living can you expect to make if you are a contract attorney? Law students — you may want to take notes. Hell, if you’re a young Biglaw associate, you should also probably take notes… several Dewey associates can tell you what I mean.

New York to 190, bro?


New York City was once a bastion of top salaries. Competition for the best attorneys and jobs meant that even temporary jobs fell from the sky like manna from heaven. Like the dream that was Camelot, that is no longer the reality. We all know that layoffs happened (are happening), and more attorneys out of work equals more sh**ty-paying jobs. Now contractors in the Big Apple are begging each other not to take less than $30 an hour.

This is where one of the commenters decides to school me … well, sort of.

• 5 days ago

Now the industry is all $27/flat (or worse)

Um, where the f**k do you work? Nebraska? In Cali we make $40 minimum. I’m on a project right now for $45. It’s commonplace to see foreign language reviews here for $65/hour. Sounds like your real problem is that you live in a s**t city.

Well, congratulations for California. It may seem like Cali is the place to be a contractor, but not so fast. That coast has uniquely liberal overtime laws, which means employers often put strict caps on the number of hours you can work a day or a week. So with a lot of those fancy $40 an hour jobs, you can only work 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week (unless there is some crazy deadline). I’m no math whiz, but I’ll take my $30 an hour job with unlimited hours.

As is true for associates (or as they like to say, “real attorneys”), regional differences dominate the contractor market, and this was borne out in the comments.

Red Angry Bird Tendernob
• 4 days ago

In Philly, we’re trying hard to keep it at $30/hour, but it’s not uncommon to see as low as $25. Foreign language starts at about $45/hour for Spanish, more for less-common languages.

(Sorry for a real answer and not a snarky answer.)

Given this disparity, I decided to take a brief sampling from around the country, just to get a sense of what various regional markets are experiencing. This does not purport to be a complete study of the market — I am sure some people get paid more (and less) in these markets. There is also a distinct lack of public information, as a majority of advertised jobs will only disclose “competitive market rate” or aren’t advertised generally (just through the agency you are registered with).

1. Boston, MA (click image to enlarge)

Boston generally seems in line with the other East Coast cities. While $30 an hour isn’t a great salary, it is better than moving to Lexington, KY.

2. Wheeling, WV (click image to enlarge)

Wheeling clocks in at $24 an hour. I guess the only surprise is that it wasn’t at the bottom of our informal survey. But this is why Biglaw is moving to places like Wheeling, cheap labor.

3. Dallas, TX

And here is the bottom (or close to it) — $20 an hour for document review, but hey, at least you get free parking (not sure how you could afford it otherwise). I guess Weil isn’t the only thing losing in Dallas.

I guess if you don’t like it you can try to get a whopping dollar more an hour doing “quality control.”

Well, there you have it, a wholly unscientific snippet of pay for contract attorneys. Do you have a job that pays worse than even Dallas? Or is your job miserable for some other reason? Send in the details of your horrible job to, subject line “Worst Job,” and you could be featured in a future column. But no matter what you get paid, it is a jungle out there, so take care of you.

Earlier: A Contract Attorney Union?
Why Doesn’t Every Biglaw Firm Have An Office In Wheeling, West Virginia?
Weil Weil West: Dallas Departures Deepen

Alex Rich is a T14 grad and Biglaw refugee who has worked as a contract attorney for the last 7 years… and counting.  If you have a story about the underbelly of the legal world known as contract work, email Alex at

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