While you may think that all lawyers are super rich, this isn’t exactly true. On average, a lawyer earns an average salary of $133, 470, which is definitely more than many people, but in the grand scheme of things, is not all that impressive. By the way, the median salary for an entry-level prosecutor (you know…the lawyers responsible for sending the bad guys to jail) is a mere $50,000 . With around 11-15 years of experience, the median salary jumps to $81,500.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that all lawyers are destined to live an upper middle class existence. Some of them manage to make it into the elite group of people who are super rich. So, who are they? Here is a quick look at the 20 richest lawyers in the world, ranked from the lowest net worth to the highest.
Please note that the 20 individuals on this list are all practicing attorneys or judges. There are plenty of other “lawyers” with a considerably higher net worth, but they simply have a law degree and no longer use it.
20. Harish Salve: $6 million
At 59 years old, Harish Salve has worked hard to develop a reputation as one of India’s top (and most expensive) lawyers, specializing in commercial, constitutional, and tax law. Salve, who comes from a long line of lawyers and formerly served as the Solicitor General of India, currently charges clients about $45,000 a day. In addition to representing several government entities, large corporate clients, and industrialist Mukesh Ambani, he has represented Bollywood celebrities in criminal cases. In fact, he is frequently referred to as famed actor Salman Khan’s “guardian angel” for keeping him out of jail on a hit and run charge. (Indian prisons are notorious for harsh conditions.)
19. Jose Baez: $8 million
Probably best known for defending Casey Anthony in 2011`, 47-year-old Jose Baez is definitely an American success story. After dropping out of high school, he joined the Navy, got his GED, and eventually earned a law degree from St. Thomas University School of Law. He has been involved in a number of high profile cases that led in acquittals, including the murder case of Nilton Diaz, which has been referred to as “the biggest legal upset since O.J., among others . He is considered by many to be the most sought after criminal attorney in the U.S. and currently represents former NFL star Aaron Hernandez. He is also the author of the best-selling book, Presumed Guilty: Casey Anthony: The Inside Story.
18. Vernon E. Jordan Jr.: $12 million
Born in 1935, Jordan has enjoyed a long law career that began after his graduation from Howard University. (In addition, he holds more than 70 honorary degrees from various colleges and universities.) He is currently the senior council, focusing on general council, business, and international law, at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer, and Feld LLP. His early career focused primarily on civil rights, while he later served as an advisor to President Clinton. Most of his fortune was earned by representing huge corporations, such as Xerox and American Express, as well as spending time as Wall Street banker.
17. Lynn Toler: $15 million
Better known as the judge from TV’s Divorce Court since 2007, Lynn Toler formerly served as the only municipal court judge in Cleveland Heights, OH for more than 8 years. After receiving her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1984, she focused on civil law until becoming municipal court judge. In this role, she was known for enforcing nontraditional sentences, such as writing essays. In addition to presiding over divorce court, Lynn is the author of three books.
16. David Boies: $20 million
Currently serving as the chairman of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, David Boies previously served as Chief Counsel for the US Senate. He graduated from Yale University in 1966 and almost immediately made a name for himself. He amassed his fortune by representing a number of large corporations, including IBM, Napster, George Steinbrenner (owner of the NY Yankees), CBS, and the NBA Players Association during the 2011 NBA lockout. According to Fortune magazine, he is “corporate America’s number 1 hired gun.”
15. Alan Dershowitz: $25 million
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1962, Alan Dershowitz went right to work. By 1964, he had become a member of the Harvard Law School faculty and in 1967, he was made a full professor. (He retired in 2013.) While teaching classes, he was also making a name for himself in the criminal law field. Thanks to his reputation as the “top lawyer of last resort,” he has a bevy of high-profile clients, including Mike Tyson, Jim Baker, Leona Helmsley, O.J. Simpson, and Jeffrey Epstein. In addition, he has written more than a dozen books. Everything together helped him amass his fortune.
14. Mark Geragos: $25 million
A 1992 graduate of Loyola Law School, Mark Geragos is a criminal defense attorney who has also been involved in a number of landmark civil litigation class action cases. He has represented everyone from Chris Brown, Michael Jackson, and Winona Ryder to Scott Peterson and Susan McDougal. Named “One of the 100 Most Influential Attorneys in California,” he also holds a record for one of the top 10 verdicts in California history for a 2008 case in which he obtained a jury verdict awarding more than $38 against a pharmaceutical company. He currently serves as a managing partner at Geragos and Geragos.
13. Thomas Mesereau: $25 million
Also a criminal defense attorney (Are you noticing a trend?), Thomas Mesereau graduated from Harvard University and The University of California’s Hastings College of Law and has was named “Trial Lawyer of the Year for 2015” by the National Trial Lawyers. (He has won plenty of other awards including “Criminal Defense Lawyer of the Year.”) He is known for taking high stakes cases with impossible odds and getting extraordinary results. He was Michael Jackson’s attorney when he was acquitted of 14 child molestation charges and has won an unprecedented three federal criminal jury trials in a row. While his hourly rate is so high that it’s not published, he also does pro bono work through the Mesereau Free Legal Clinic.
12. Judge Joe Brown: $30 million
Best known for his daytime court show that ran for 15 years, Judge Joe Brown received his law degree from UCLA. After serving as the first African-American prosecutor in Memphis, TN, he opened his own practice before serving as a criminal court judge in Shelby County, TN. While presiding over James Earl Ray’s appeal for the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., he caught the attention of TV producers. Most of his wealth was gained through the show. In 2014, he ran for district attorney general in Shelby County, but lost to the incumbent.
11. Robert Shapiro: $50 million
Currently a senior partner at Glaser, Weil, Fink, Jacobs, Howard, Avchen, and Shapiro, LLP, Robert Shapiro graduated from Loyola Law School in 1968 and began a career as a criminal attorney. After serving on O.J. Simpson’s legal team (and representing several other celebrities), he opted to move into civil litigation. In addition to his law career, he has written a children’s book and is a co-founder of LegalZoom and Shoedazzle.com.
10. John Branca: $50 million
A graduate of the UCLA School of Law, John Branca has had a lengthy career as an entertainment and corporate lawyer with a focus on representing rock and roll acts and independent investors. He has represented more than 30 members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is on pretty much every list of premier entertainment lawyers in the world. On a side note, he serves as the co-executor of Michael Jackson’s estate.
9. Jane Wanjiru Michuki: $60 million
Educated at the Kenya School of Law and Warwick University, Jane Wanjiru Michuki is a managing partner at Kimani & Michuki Advocate, a corporate law firm in Nairobi, Kenya that represents several of the largest corporations in Kenya, such as Equity Group Holdings Limited. In addition to her law career, she is the largest female stockholder on the Nairobi Stock Exchange, which is where a good bit of her net worth comes from.
8. Roy Black: $100 million
Yet another civil and criminal defense attorney, Roy Black, a graduate of the University of Miami, is the senior partner at Black, Srebnick, Kornspan, & Stumpf. For more than 40 years, he has represented high profile clients, such as William Kennedy Smith (acquitted on rape charges), Albertson’s, Inc., and Helio Castroneves. Known by most in the industry for having “the best national reputation in Florida,” he also acts as a legal analyst on “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America” and teaches advanced criminal evidence at the University of Miami.
7. Willie E. Gary: $100 million
Nicknamed “The Giant Killer,” Willie Gary has taken on several of the nation’s biggest corporations, including Anheuser-Busch and Disney. He has won some of the largest settlements and jury awards in the U.S., including several cases valued at more than $30 billion. A graduate of Shaw University, he is currently the managing partner at Gary, Williams, Parenti, Watson, and Gary, P.L.L.C., works as a motivational speaker, and has appeared as a legal analyst on “The Early Show.”
6. Judy Sheindlin: between $150 million and $250 million
Best known for being a no-nonsense TV judge, Judge Judy earns $47 million a year. A 1965 graduate of New York Law School, Judge Sheindlin was originally a corporate attorney, though she quickly grew tired of it and choose to become a family court prosecutor. In 1982, she was appointed as a criminal court judge, where she earned a reputation as a “tough” judge and presided over more than 20,000 cases. This, along with several books she wrote, caught the eye of TV executives and eventually led to her TV show. In addition, she is the author of seven books and has served as legal analyst on various TV shows.
5. Bill Neukom: $850 million
Currently serving as the founder and CEO of the World Justice Project, which is dedicated to promoting the rule of law all over the world, Bill Neukom is a corporate attorney who is well-known for his philanthropy. After graduating from Stanford Law School in 1967, he worked at a small firm until he was asked to do work for Microsoft, which was still in its beginning stages. Eventually, he became Microsoft’s legal counsel, a position he held for 25 years. Previously, he was an investor in the San Francisco Giants.
4. William Lerach: $900 million
Although he was disbarred in 2009 for his involvement in a kickback scheme, William Lerach had a lucrative career as a corporate lawyer with a specialty in private securities class action lawsuits for more than 30 years, which is how he amassed his considerable fortune. Nicknamed the “King of Pain” and often referred to as the most feared lawyer in American during his heyday, Lerach, a University of Pittsburg School of Law graduate, holds the record for the largest sum ever recovered in a group of securities class action lawsuits for the $7.12 billion judgement he received against Enron.
3. Wichai Thongtang: $1.1 billion
Considered by many in the industry to be “one of the top names in the profession from around the globe,” Wichai Thongtang is a powerful lawyer in Thailand. After graduating from Thammasat University in 1970, he went into corporate law, where he represented a number of top Thai executives and corporations and took the opportunity to learn about the stock market and investing. In addition to his law career, Thongtang is the Chairman of Cable Thai Holding PLC and owns 15% of Dusit Medical, a Bangkok healthcare firm.
2. Joe Jamail: $1.7 billion
Although he passed away at the age of 90 in December 2015, Joe Jamail makes this list because he was the wealthiest practicing lawyer in the United States at the time of his death. Often referred to as the “King of Torts,” he represented Pennzoil in a 1985 lawsuit against rival Texaco. His contingency fee was $335 after the courts decided in Pennzoil’s favor. The 1953 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law was a former marine who had a longstanding reputation in the courtroom for being abrasive, rude, and vulgar. However, outside of the courtroom, he was known for his generous philanthropy.
1. Richard Scruggs: $1.7 billion
A 1976 graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Law and a prominent trial lawyer, Richard Scruggs is best known for his love of tobacco and asbestos cases and the fact he won more than $1 billion in judgements against various companies. He was also highly involved in 2000’s Ritalin class action lawsuits, as well as the 2003 case against Lehman Brothers for which he won a $51 million verdict. However, in 2007, he was accused of judicial bribery. In 2008, he pled guilty and eventually served six years in federal prison. Today, at the age of 70, he has completed his sentence and has retained his massive fortune.