The Teaching, Training, and Careers Committee of the American Psychology – Law Society has compiled information regarding the employment opportunities and average salaries that one can expect to earn with a career in psychology and law. This article summarizes the types of compensation one can expect to receive and the demand for employment opportunities within the field of psychology and law.


Employment Opportunities for Forensic Psychologists

Forensic psychology, and the larger area of psychology and law, have both enjoyed steady growth during the last three decades. The field has not been affected by the changes in our health care system to nearly the same extent as the “fee for service” delivery of psychological services in other areas. Research, consultation, and practice in areas of psychology relevant to the law should continue to expand over the next ten years. It is important to note, however, that while the need for services has remained constant or expanded, there is increased effort within psychology to provide relevant training, important research, and guidelines for the practice that should mean that those specializing in this area will be among the highest in demand for the delivery of services to courts, attorneys, and law-makers.

Psychology and law has also grown steadily within academic areas. Although some programs are specifically devoted to this specialty, it is more common to find faculties with one or two members who are interested in some aspect of psychology and law. It is likely that the availability of these kinds of positions will be subject to other influences (such as the availability of faculty positions generally), but such availability should compare favorably with most other specialties.

Salaries and Compensation

Salaries for psychologists can vary according to the setting and nature of the work. In academic settings, the salary for a beginning assistant professor in 2011 might initially be in the $46,000-$64,000 range in Departments of Psychology. Why the wide range? There are many complicating factors, including whether institutions are private or public, whether they offer doctoral degrees, masters degrees, or only bachelors degrees, and whether they are located in states with strong economies. Generally, salaries will be somewhat higher at large research intensive universities as compared with smaller teaching-oriented colleges. Salaries in medical school settings are typically somewhat higher, as they are established in comparison with medical professionals. Medical school positions, however, are very often limited in terms of the “hard money” they pay, meaning that an individual joining a Department of Psychiatry as an assistant professor might be expected to “earn” between 50-100% of his or her salary by obtaining grants, contracts, or through clinical services income. Even in u

niversity and other interdisciplinary settings, however, there is growing pressure on psychologists to generate sources of salary support to repay the department or school. Note that many academic psychologists are on an institution’s payroll for only the academic year (9 or 10 months), and some supplement their income by paying themselves additional summer salary from research grants, private consulting, or other professional work.

Salaries also vary in applied settings. Psychologists entering correctional settings will find striking differences between different systems. The median annual salary in the Federal prison system was $50,900 in 2009. Salaries are likely to be slightly lower in a state correctional facility or local jail, although there can be a wide range of salary levels. Privately owned facilities compensate at much lower rates. There may also be discrepancies according to the level of training; some correctional facilities will seek to hire masters-level psychologists at salaries that may begin between $31,000 – $37,000 rather than doctoral-level psychologists, to whom they might be expected to pay about $10,000 more.

There is variability as well in starting salaries in hospitals and community agencies. Currently, a starting salary for a doctoral-level psychologist will be between $45,000 and $51,000 in most settings. Occasionally it may be less, particularly in more rural settings, and salaries may be greater in some states and urban settings. In 2008, the media annual salary for a clinical psychologist was $64,140 (with the middle 50 percent earning between $48,700 and $82,800; the lowest 10 percent earning less than $37,900; and the highest 10 percent earning more than $106,840).

Some psychologists should expect to see their salaries increase at a rate roughly consistent with inflation (i.e., 3% a year), although this may not occur in universities or organizations experiencing financial difficulties. Generally a good rule of thumb is to determine the cost of living adjustments paid to staff of a particular organization during the last five years, in assessing the prospects for the next five.

Psychologists also have the advantage of being able to establish a part-time practice or consulting business in addition to working with an organization or at a university. For example, clinical psychologists might see patients or do evaluations for courts. Experimental cognitive or social psychologists might occasionally consult on legal cases and/or give expert testimony in court cases. Some organizations and most universities have rules governing this, so it is important to know whether this is permissible. Part-time private practice does allow a psychologist to earn income at an hourly rate consistent with that charged by others in the field and geographic area. Such rates may vary a good deal (e.g., between $100/hour and upwards of $300/hour). Obtaining work at private rates is typically dependent on the psychologist’s reputation, as well as the amount of private forensic work that is available in a given area.

For more information on salaries, please go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website (

Photo courtesy of