Cost & Opportunity: Legal Jobs

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ABODO’s Cost and Opportunity series has so far helped you weigh the best cities for jobs in tech, health care, education, and several other fields. This month, we turn our eye to one of civil society’s most important occupation categories: the legal field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ legal occupations category includes lawyers, judges, paralegals, court reporters, title examiners, legal support workers, and related side gigs.

It’s unsurprising that when it comes to sheer job concentration, the center of the nation’s government and home of the U.S. Supreme Court comes out on top. In Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV, 25 out of every 1,000 jobs are in the legal field. The next-highest concentrations aren’t particularly close: Philadelphia, PA (17.6 per 1,000), and Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall, FL (15 per 1,000).

The highest salaries in the legal field were on the west coast — Silicon Valley, to be precise. In San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA, members of the legal profession make a median of $142,100 per year, and in San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA, the figure is $138,240. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV comes in third at $134,290.

Access to job opportunities and high salaries are important factors to consider when you’re relocating for a career. But what about your rent? No matter where you move, you also need to balance your potential earnings with your potential housing costs. To make this easier, we’ve created our own formula to score 76 MSAs nationwide on a weighted balance of median one-bedroom rent, median legal salary, and job density. Job density accounts for 75% of the score, while income-to-rent ratio accounts for 25%. The highest score possible is a 20.

Where are the best legal jobs for job opportunities and rent prices?

Taking rent, salary, and job concentration into account, the nation’s capital still comes out on top for legal jobs. The high salaries and plentiful job opportunities in the DMV more than make up for the punishing rents (a one-bedroom goes for $2,273). At #2 is Philadelphia, where relatively high rents ($1,367) and a more moderate median salary ($83,190) are balanced by high job concentration numbers. A surprise at #3 is Detroit-Warren-Dearborn. Motor City doesn’t have the most legal jobs in the country, but it’s easy to pay $525 per month in rent when your salary is $75,020. (Detroit’s income-rent ratio of 11.91, meaning they earn nearly 12 times what they pay in rent, is second-highest on our list.) If you’re looking for a law office in California, be sure you understand how expensive it is to live there.

Bringing up the rear are Durham-Chapel Hill, NC (1.23); Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA (1.21); and Greensboro-High Point, NC (1). In each of these cities, rents aren’t low enough to overcome moderate salaries and low job concentrations. That doesn’t mean that lawyers in North Carolina are out of luck — but if you’re a lawyer looking to move, the most advantageous landing spot might be elsewhere.

For press inquiries, contact Sam Radbil.


We used 2015 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on employment per 1,000 jobs and median annual wages for all legal occupations by metropolitan statistical area and paired it with ABODO data on median 1-bedroom rent prices. To calculate the income-to-rent ratio for each MSA, we divided the median annual wages by 12 to get a median monthly wage, then divided the result by the current median 1-bedroom rent price for the area. We then scaled both the employment per 1,000 jobs and the income-to-rent ratio to give each a relative value between 0 and 10. The final score is a weighted sum of the scaled values, with employment per 1,000 jobs carrying a 75% weight and income-to-rent ratio 25%.