Florida lawyers sound off on the state of the profession

first_imgFlorida lawyers sound off on the state of the profession Mark D. Killian Managing Editor Florida lawyers say balancing family and work, time management, and stress are their top personal concerns. The most significant problems facing the profession include the public’s poor perception of lawyers, the lack of ethics/professionalism, and that there are too many lawyers.Those findings were among the conclusions drawn from a new survey conducted by the Bar’s Research, Planning and Evaluation Department.Nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of all respondents agree that the Bar promotes high standards of ethics and competence in the legal profession, yet 68 percent of those surveyed still say the public does not have confidence in the legal system.Those surveyed also shared their opinions on lawyer advertising, career satisfaction, and judicial competence and fitness. 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 computer technology/Internet, an over saturation of lawyers, and threats to judicial independence.Also, 91 percent of respondents rated the Bar’s continuing legal education seminars as either excellent or good — an all-time high.The Membership Opinion Survey was mailed to 2,771 randomly selected Bar members in August. the September 27 deadline, 26 percent of the surveys had been returned. Mike Garcia, director of the Bar’s Research, Planning and Evaluation Department, said the results of the survey are statistically valid and the margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent at the 95-percent level of confidence. Family and Work About two-fifths of all respondents listed balancing family and work (40 percent) or time management (39 percent) as one of their most significant personal problems or concerns. Around one-third listed high stress (35 percent) or lack of civility/professionalism (33 percent) as areas of concern.Garcia said there were significant differences across employment classifications concerning the biggest problems lawyer face personally. While time management was the most frequently cited category for partners (48 percent) and government lawyers (44 percent), balancing family and work was the top concern for associates (52 percent) and corporate counsel (46 percent). Lack of civility/professionalism was the most selected category for sole and small firm practitioners (38 percent), as well as judges (46 percent). Forty-six percent of judges also listed retirement planning as one of their chief concerns.When asked about the most serious problems faced by the legal profession today — respondents could list up to three — 50 percent report that poor public perception of attorneys is a serious problem facing the profession, while 42 percent said a lack of ethics/professionalism, and 34 percent listed too many attorneys. Just under one-third of all respondents (31 percent) cited a threat to judicial independence, and 26 percent said frivolous lawsuits. Income The median income for those polled was $100,000, up from $95,000 two years ago.“Over two-fifths – or 41 percent – of all respondents earned more than $100,000 before taxes from legal work in 2004,” Garcia said.Here’s a breakdown of median salaries of the respondents:• Managing partners, $175,000.• Partners/shareholders, $170,000.• Lawyers with one or more associates, $100,000.• Corporate counsel, $100,000.• Federal government attorneys, $100,000.• Sole practitioners, $95,000.• Local government attorneys, $90,000.• Associates, $77,000.• State government attorneys, $60,000.The median income for private practice lawyers was $100,000 in 2004, while government lawyers reported a median income of $75,000. The Bar as an Advocate Asked about the Bar as an advocate for the legal profession, 63 percent of respondents rate the Bar as excellent or good, down from 66 percent in 2003 and 68 percent in 2001, but still up from 53 percent in 1997 and 41 percent in 1995.The lowest ratings come from government attorneys and those in the northern part of the state. Highest ratings are from those 35 years of age or under and those 65 years of age or older, and out-of-state attorneys. In the past two years, a higher frequency of members’ negative (13 percent) opinion of the Bar has developed, rather than a more positive (8 percent) opinion. That is also consistent for the past two surveys going back to 2001. Primary reasons for members being more positive are: the Bar’s defense of judicial independence; member involvement in Bar sections/committees; the Bar’s emphasis on professionalism programs; and improved CLE programs and publications. Primary reasons for members being more negative are: the Bar being too political/their dislike of current Bar lobbying efforts; the Bar taking positions on moral issues; the Bar not representing small firms/sole practitioners; and the Bar not being tough enough on lawyer advertising. Advertising The study found 85 percent of those surveyed believe lawyer advertising negatively affects the public’s view of lawyers and the legal profession, including 76 percent of respondents whose firms advertise.Only 5 percent said advertising has a favorable effect on the public’s view of lawyers.Just under two-thirds (65 percent) of all respondents believe that television advertising has the most negative impact on the public’s perception of the profession. Billboard advertising (17 percent) and direct mail (10 percent) were also mentioned with some frequency as being the most negative form of advertising.The survey found 56 percent of members believe the current restrictions on lawyer advertising are “too liberal” as compared to 31 percent who say they are balanced and 13 percent who say they are “too restrictive.” Career Satisfaction The survey also found 76 percent of respondents are either “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their legal careers, up from 72 percent two years ago, and only 5 percent say they are “very unsatisfied” with their careers.On a rating scale of one to four (one being very satisfied and four very unsatisfied) judges report the most job satisfaction, while lawyers with one or more associates report the least satisfaction. Judges weighed in with an average score of 1.46; followed by managing partners, 1.57; partners/shareholders, 1.89; government lawyers, 1.95; sole practitioners, 2.0; corporate counsel, 2.06; associates, 2.13; and lawyers with one or more associates, 2.29.The survey did find lawyers over 50 are more satisfied with their jobs than younger lawyers. Also, white lawyers reported being more satisfied with their careers (1.96) than Hispanics (2.20) and African Americans (2.27).The most frequently mentioned reasons for career dissatisfaction are job burnout (20 percent), salary (18 percent), lack of civility/professionalism (18 percent), personal stress (17 percent), and hours required at the office (11 percent), according to Garcia.“For those respondents who list ‘salary’ as the primary source of career dissatisfaction, their median salary for 2004 was $70,000,” Garcia said. “For those who listed ‘job burnout’ or ‘hours required at office,’ 71 percent took two weeks or less of vacation in 2004.”Twenty-three percent of respondents said they have too much business, while 52 percent report they have just the right amount of business. Twenty-three percent said they could use some more work, and 3 percent say they are not busy at all. Important Issues Garcia said 52 percent of all respondents report that improving the public’s perception of lawyers and the legal profession is one of the most important issues for the Bar to address in the next few years. Increasing professionalism efforts (44 percent) and being more of an advocate for the small firm/solo practitioners (35 percent) were the other two most frequently mentioned issues, the same as they were two years ago and four years ago. Other issues cited by respondents include implementing tougher standards on lawyer advertising (30 percent); be more aggressive with UPL enforcement (24 percent); legal access for those who cannot afford an attorney (21 percent); stronger discipline of theft of client funds (17 percent); and diversity in the legal profession (8 percent).Half of all respondents report that poor public perception of lawyers (50 percent) and lack of ethics and professionalism (42 percent) are some of the most serious issues facing the profession today. Thirty-four percent list too many lawyers, threats to judicial independence (31 percent), and frivolous lawsuits (26 percent) as serious problems. Judges Eight percent of respondents rate the competency and fitness of judges in their region as excellent and 52 percent rate them as good. Another 34 percent rate their region’s judges as fair, and 6 percent rate them as poor. The percentage of respondents who rate the competence and fitness of judges in their region of primary practice as excellent or good has decreased from 64 percent in 2003 to 60 percent in 2005.A higher percentage of respondents from the northern parts of the state rate the competence and fitness of their judiciary as either excellent or good (69 percent); compared with 62 percent in the central and southwest portions of the state and 55 percent in the southeast. Florida lawyers sound off on the state of the professioncenter_img December 1, 2005 Regular Newslast_img

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