Lawyers report increased income, job satisfaction July 1, 2001 Managing Editor Regular News Lawyers report increased income, job satisfaction Mark D. Killian Managing Editor While Florida lawyers are earning more and are generally satisfied with their careers, they are concerned about the ever-increasing number of practitioners entering the state and competition from nonlawyers. Those findings were among the conclusions drawn from a new survey conducted by the Bar’s Research, Planning and Evaluation Department. More than two-thirds of the polled lawyers rate The Florida Bar as either an excellent or good advocate for the legal profession. The 2001 results reveal a slight decrease in the percentage of excellent/good ratings from 1999; however, the 2001 ratings are still well above the ratings received from 1991-1997. Almost three-quarters (74 percent) of lawyers responding to the Bar’s 2001 Membership Opinion Survey also said the Bar is a “supportive and cohesive organization that is interested in the well-being of its members.” Three-quarters of the lawyers surveyed also said they are satisfied with their careers, equal to what they reported two years ago. An overwhelming majority of lawyers (75 percent), however, still say the public does not have confidence in the legal system. Those surveyed also shared their opinions on judicial competence and lawyer advertising. And the survey provides some information on how lawyers are doing financially, although the income data collected is not as comprehensive as is gathered every other year in the Bar’s Law Office Management and Economic surveys. When asked what will have the greatest impact on the profession over the next 10 years, the most often cited responses were an oversaturation of lawyers, computer technology/Internet, and competition from nonattorneys. The Membership Opinion Survey was mailed to 2,650 randomly selected Bar members in April. the May 30 deadline, 1,168 had been returned, for a response rate of 44 percent. Bar senior analyst Mike Garcia said the results of the survey are statistically valid and the margin or error is plus or minus three percent at the 95-percent level of confidence. Income The median income for those polled was $85,000, up from $70,000 two years ago. “More than one-third or 36 percent of all respondents report earning more than $100,000 before taxes from legal work in 2000,” Garcia said. “Just under one-quarter 24 percent report earning $50,000 or less last year. The majority of those under $50,000 are state government lawyers, associates, or sole practioners under the age of 35. Here’s a breakdown of median salaries of the respondents: • Partners/shareholders, $140,000. • Managing partners, $125,000. • Judges, $118,000. • Lawyers with one or more associates, $100,000. •Federal government attorneys, $98,000. • Corporate counsel, $97,500. • Sole practitioner, $80,000. • Local government attorney, $80,000. • Associates, $65,000. • State government attorney, $50,000. • Legal aid/legal service lawyers, $43,000. The median income for whites was $85,000; the median income for Hispanics was $75,000; and $55,000 for African Americans. The median total income for men was $100,000, and women reported a median income of $60,000. The median income for private practice lawyers was $95,000 in 2000, while government lawyers reported a median income of $60,000. The Bar as an Advocate Asked about the Bar as an advocate for the legal profession, 68 percent of respondents rate the Bar as excellent or good, down from 72 percent in 1998, but still up from 53 percent in 1997 and 41 percent in 1995. Eighteen percent gave the Bar an excellent rating, 50 percent good, 23 percent fair, and nine percent poor. region, 82 percent of out-of-state members said the Bar is a good or excellent advocate for the profession, followed by 68 percent of Southeast Florida lawyers, 65 percent of those in the North Florida, and 64 percent of Central/Southwest. “There are significant differences across counties on the rating of The Florida Bar as an advocate for the legal profession,” Garcia said. “While 78 percent of all respondents from Broward County rate the Bar as an excellent or good advocate, 42 percent of all attorneys from Leon County rate the Bar as a fair or poor advocate.” Although a vast majority of the members think the Bar is doing a good job as an advocate for the profession, the survey found 72 percent of lawyers think the public’s view of lawyers and the legal profession has become less favorable over the past 10 years, and 75 percent said the public does not have confidence in the legal system. Job Satisfaction The survey also found 73 percent of respondents are either “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their legal careers, and only seven percent say they are “very unsatisfied” with their careers. The four employment classifications that reported the highest degree of satisfaction were all employed by government entities. On a rating scale of one to four (one being not at all satisfactory and four very satisfactory) federal government lawyers report the most job satisfaction, while sole practitioners report the least satisfaction. Federal government lawyers weighed in with an average score of 3.44; followed by judges, 3.39; local government lawyers, 3.22; state government lawyers, 3.15; partner/shareholder, 3.12; lawyers with one or more associates, 3.00; managing partners, 2.96; corporate counsels, 2.94; associates, 2.86; and sole practitioners, 2.68. The survey found no significant difference between men and women respondents on the rating of their satisfaction with their careers. The survey, however, showed lawyers over the age of 50 are more satisfied with their jobs than younger lawyers but not by much. Also, black lawyers reported being more satisfied with their careers (3.78) than white (3.49) and Hispanics (3.30). Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they have too much business, while 42 percent report they have just the right amount of business. Twenty-six percent said they could use some more work, and three percent say they are not busy at all. A majority of those who report not being busy were sole practitioners. Important Issues Garcia said 56 percent of all respondents report that improving the public’s perception of lawyers and the legal profession is one the most important issues for the Bar to address in the next few years. Increasing professionalism efforts (42 percent) and being more of an advocate for the small firm/solo practitioners (38 percent) were the other two most frequently mentioned issues. Other issues cited by respondents include implementing tougher standards on lawyer advertising (26 percent); less lobbying and politics (23 percent); be more aggressive with UPL enforcement (20 percent); and focus more on public protection (14 percent). More than half of all respondents report that poor public perception of lawyers (56 percent) and lack of ethics and professionalism (53 percent) are some of the most serious issues facing the profession today. About one-third listed too many lawyers (38 percent); greed and an over-emphasis on billable hours (34 percent); and frivolous lawsuits (33 percent) as serious problems. Only five percent listed ancillary business practices as one of the most serious problems. Advertising Garcia said a large majority of respondents (84 percent) believe lawyer advertising negatively affects the public’s view of lawyers and the legal profession, including 70 percent of respondents whose firms advertise. Only five percent said lawyer advertising has a favorable effect on the public’s view of lawyers. About two-third’s (65 percent) of all respondents believe that television advertising has the most negative impact on the public’s perception of lawyers and the profession. Billboard advertising (13 percent) and direct mail (13 percent) were also mentioned with some frequency as being the most negative form of advertising. Just under half of those surveyed said the current restrictions of lawyer advertising in Florida are too liberal, and 40 percent believe they are balanced. Seventy-six percent of those over 65 said the current advertising restrictions are too liberal, while 45 percent of lawyers under 35 believe they are balanced. Judges Fourteen percent of respondents rate the competency and fitness of judges in their region as excellent, and 49 percent rate them as good. Another 29 percent rate their region’s judges as fair, and eight percent rate them as poor. There is a significant difference across regions on the opinion of the competence and fitness of judges. While 76 percent of North Florida lawyers and 68 percent of Central/Southwest lawyers rate their judges as excellent or good, only 56 percent of Southeast and out-of-state members rate their judges as good or excellent. Internet Lawyer use of the Internet is still climbing. The study found 93 percent of respondents have used the Internet in the past three months. That percentage is up from 51 percent in 1997 and 87 percent in 1999. Ninety-nine percent of associates said they accessed the Internet within the past three months, followed by local, federal, and state government lawyers (97 percent), corporate counsels (96 percent), managing partners (94 percent), partner/shareholders (94 percent), practitioners with one or more associates (89 percent), sole practitioners (88 percent) and judges (77 percent). “There is a strong correlation between Internet usage and age, as the younger an attorney is, the more likely he or she is to have used the Internet in the past few months,” Garcia said. Copies of the 2001 Membership Opinion Survey are available from the Research, Planning and Evaluation Department for $25, plus local sales tax, from Bar senior planning analyst Mike Garcia at 651 E. Jefferson Street, Tallahassee 32399-2300.