If you're thinking to yourself "shit that's good money, I should look into law school" then read the answer below carefully.
How many lawyers make top tier pay - not many as a percentage of all lawyers and it's hard to find stats on stuff like this. For small firms/successful solo lawyers, it's impossible to say - but a very small portion of people who take contingency cases (% of winnings as fee) are good enough to get the big juicy ones and win. Think Michael Avenatti until his recent fall from grace - sleazebag or not the man could afford to be a gentleman racer (i.e. paid for all his own shit with no sponsors for an expensive ass hobby) so he clearly made millions - or rather tens of millions - over his life. He'd be totally obscure if he didn't get in the spotlight (I'm assuming his spending habits exceeded his earnings and that's why he did so - to drum up business). A friend's neighbor makes $20 million a year suing New Jersey under some obscure law in slightly different circumstances - I don't know what he does since it's a trade secret for him, but he has a car elevator for a garage full of Ferraris. Apparently the underlying problem is more expensive to fix than to pay him every year so he milks this. A portion of your tax dollars goes to shit like this because the government is overall pretty damn wasteful.
However, most lawyers who start out taking contingency cases work long hours for horrible bosses in shitty offices for 40-60k starting (and dont forget the student loans) and most will never make it past 70-80k at most being worked to death. It's a risky path - the ones who go on to make millions are a tiny portion.
Look at that list by profits per partner I sent you. You can see there are 100 firms on it. Some have more partners, some have less. Partners do not get paid equally - it used to be a seniority type system where the pool is split on age, but only a small handful of firms still do that. The rest do "eat what you kill" - meaning you get a fraction of the amount of revenue you bring in. That means you either come in with amazing connections, you slave under an amazingly connected partner and eventually take over his, or you somehow develop them in the line of work. On top of that you need to play the political game (the partnership has to vote for you to go from a salaried employee to getting a slice of their pie - which they don't want to do unless they have to), be in the right area, at the right place, at the right time. If you are the world's best lawyer at packaging subprime mortgage derivatives and you're up for partnership in fall 2008, you're fucked. That's it. Career over. All that time and effort wasted.
On average, 2-3% of a firm's entering class makes partner 10 years later. The rest go into government, go work for corporations, or take various other jobs, often upper middle class but often not, with an uncertain future. At a law firm a lawyer is a profit center - even as a mere employee you bring in money.
Anywhere else, a lawyer is either a bureaucrat or a cost center. At a big company you're likely to be the guy all the business people dread dealing with because it's your job to tell them why they can't do what they want. You're not considered valuable and nobody will shed a tear if they have a rough year and need to cut you. This is what corporate lawyers generally exit to.
Litigators (to simplify, trial lawyers - although don't let the name fool you, at a big firm it's all paperwork and only if you advance down the partner track do you get to do anything you would think of a trial lawyer doing) tend to go into government - less roles for that role in companies. Government is insanely competitive for good positions (meaning mostly federal ones), which mostly top out around 150k and with the very highest paying and rare ones topping out closer to 350k. State and city government are options but those are way below in both pay and quality of work. But they are generally 9-5 for what it's worth.
Oh, I forgot to mention: as a lawyer at one of those big swinging dick top pay firms, you are on call 24/7. Literally. Especially as a corporate lawyer. Doesn't matter what you're doing, if you need to be at the office you drop it and get there (or these days sometimes work on it from your laptop from home) if you get an email and you want to stay on the partner track.
The rates of alcoholism, substance abuse, divorce and suicide for this profession are insanely high. It is regularly ranked among the most miserable professions.
Even for people who are cut out for it (hard working, intellectual, committed, energetic, like the law) it is insanely difficult. For the people who go into it for the money because they have an English degree, no idea what to do with their life, and the idea that making 190k your first year (standard pay at top firms) is cool, it's an absolute hell. The personalities are also very difficult and everyone's on edge. Upwards of 60 hours a week (at random times including weekends, all nighters and whatever else is needed) is a standard expectation, I have a buddy at the #2 firm who regularly does 100 hours a week. You can imagine what this does to your health - especially if you hate it and are just in it for that money most of which goes to your loans and the rest of which you don't have time to spend. People come into the office the day after surgery, women come in the day after childbirth, people skip friends' weddings and funerals. Why?
Before I get there, let me tell you that these 190k a year jobs exist for 15% of law graduates. Generally either students at top 14 schools (minus the bottom of the class), the top 10-25% of the class at a decent school (roughly 15-35 but they are not all uniformly well regarded - some do better some worse), and the top handful of people at 35-80, and basically maybe the valedictorian and 81-150. 150-200 are diploma mills - they still cost 250k to attend without a scholarship but you are basically fucked on graduation. Michael Cohen, Trump's attorney, went to one of the shadiest law schools in the country so he did pretty well for himself money wise - until he caught that bid in federal prison. I'd honestly rather be in his shoes than the average member of his class - at least he has some cash. A good amount of them, maybe a clear majority, won't ever even get hired as lawyers at the world's shittiest firm.
Once you get that job, you probably have a few hundred k in student loans from college and law school (some have scholarships, quite a few have rich parents but if you're not in those categories you have heavy debt). That's why you skip anything they want you to skip - you need to pay those off just to get back to zero net worth and that takes years.
The other half of it is that a new lawyer is useless. You don't know how to do law after law school, you learn on the job. Think of law school as teaching you the alphabet and your job being to write essays - there's a steep learning curve from one to the other. You pick up how letters make words on your own, horribly stressed and bewildered.
Best case scenario - you either didn't have loans or paid them off, graduated from a top school, landed at a top firm, did the ten year grind, made partner and started making 800-1.5M, got good clients somehow, and over another ten years got to be making that 10M a year, in the process beating out numerous equally ambitious equally talented people all of whom had knives out for you becuase they realize there's less and less room at each level. Of that 15% of law students who gets the first year job, 50% will be gone in 2 years, 90% will be gone in 7, 2-3% (or some years 0%) will make partner. Then you fight against the other partners, still working insane hours on your client's schedule but now managing a team and fighting it out with other partners over politics. Do that well (as in perfectly with no fuckups) and get lucky repeatedly and you will get to that top pay.
Many people decide it isn't worth it even if it's in the cards. But for most, it isn't. Look at the bottom firm on that list. Take roughly the same experience but cut the top tier outcome to 1 million from ten or twenty. I don't even know if it's worth it to give up that much for it - and that's before factoring in the tiny odds of getting it if you do your best.
And the work itself is considered by almost everyone to be mind numbingly boring. Next time you get a license agreement to click ok on, read it instead. Then realize someone wrote it. A team of people, working odd hours for a long time with endless back and forth. That's what lawyers do.
So there's a reason 1) it pays so much even to junior people 2) people are so miserable doing it. Why do the top partners make so much? Well, because when Goldman Sachs needs something done exactly right they don't want to change it - they'll pay what it takes to make sure they have a guy working on it who they like, who gets it done perfectly, who sees all the pitfalls and neutralizes them, and who finds advantages others won't. That guy makes 10 million a year.
My explanation was corporate focused. So that guy would be running a deal where they're buying a massive corporation. For litigation, that guy would be running a trial where hundreds of millions or billions are on the line - his fee is nothing in comparison.
So that's what you need to consider before going to law school. I was born into deep, deep poverty. Not in America, in a far poorer place. I know how hopeless it is. I still have nightmares. I can't stand the thought that I'm not doing everything I can so, even if I sacrifice my life, my children might go be artists or shithead stoner trust fund kids and not have the trouble I did. Well, and I want a nice place and a nice car too, but that's a small part of it.
I'm not even close to the top. I'm smart and determined, but there's a good chance I'll be fucked before I get there.