We hear a lot these days about public sector salaries exceeding their private sector equivalents. A lot of those stories are about federal employees and they are being refuted along the way by other organizations, as you can see in this Washington Post story.
The city of Houston, currently the fourth largest city in the United States, provides a spreadsheet on the salaries of its employees here. We used that information to do a little number crunching for the salaries of city attorneys. As you can imagine, there are many levels of city attorneys in the fourth largest city in the United States, all with very specific job descriptions and qualifications criteria, a situation which really defies our capabilities for pure apples-to-apples comparisons with private sector attorneys. The work is different.
But if you consider that the highest paid city attorney position has a salary cap of $221,338 it's pretty easy to guess that this person is making far less than they would in the private sector. There's no doubt that the Houston mayor engages in a pretty exhaustive search for an attorney best qualified to advise and litigate for the fourth largest city in the country. It’s our guess also that the person is very qualified from a legal perspective, has a long record of success in either private or public sector, and is capable of handling very high profile matters in the courts and in the political arena.
So what would a person of that stature earn at say, Vinson & Elkins, or Baker Botts or Giuliani LLC? The Glass Door website, where people can anonymously report their salaries, reports that a first year attorney at Vinson & Elkins receives $160,000 and 8-year “veterans” receive $249-271,000. That’s not too hard to imagine as true. We can only guess that partners earn well in excess of $500,000 per year. Compare that to ranges in the chart below, which shows the pay scale for all the levels of city attorneys in Houston: