News & Insights

Texas Judges Are Underpaid


Winter 2023


The Advocate

Imagine the following job posting:

WANTED: Candidates for extremely important, demanding job. The position requires years of experience and expertise. It also involves high levels of stress, as your performance on the job may change the course of others’ lives and result in fortunes changing hands. However, the position pays less than entry-level workers at competing businesses, and you will likely take a pay cut to start the job. In fact, not only is the initial pay low, but there will be no adjustments to keep up with inflation.

If you saw this post, you probably would tell the employer to take the job and shove it. But what if I told you that the position described is a Texas district court judge?

For our Texas judges, this scenario is a reality, not a hypothetical. Law school graduates reporting for duty at big firms with their shiny new Texas bar cards make about $215,000 in their very first year of practice (before their bonuses). Meanwhile, a new judge makes $140,000 – less than two thirds of the amounts those entry-level associates receive. The last increase in the base pay for a district court judge was over a decade ago – way back in September 2013. When considering inflation, the current salary of a district judge has decreased since 1991. Just to keep up with inflation since 1991 (forget about the far steeper pay increases for lawyers over that period), the base salary of a district judge would need to be around $162,294. Report of the Judicial Compensation Commission 2022, p. 4 (unless otherwise noted, the statistics I recite herein come from this report, which is available at

Do we expect judges to make as much as their peers at big law firms? No. We know Texas judges do not seek a black robe to get rich. They have heeded a call to serve the citizens of Texas, and know that comes with sacrifice. But the disparity between compensation of private attorneys and judicial salaries has become so lopsided that it may dissuade the best judges and judicial candidates from answering the call for public service – or from remaining on the bench. That is a problem. The Texas legislature failed to address the issue in the session that just concluded. We Texas trial lawyers need to fulfill our roles as officers of the court and advocates within the judicial system to ensure that this oversight does not repeat itself. Our judges and our judicial system deserve better.

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Geoff Gannaway 713.951.6263
Commercial Litigation