Jonathan Katz ()
The employees on the bottom rung of the law office payroll often do the tedious work. But, basically, we trust them with our careers. They fold and stamp our mail, and take it to the post office on time, so that when we certify to court and colleagues that a pleading has been mailed, our certification is true. They hand-deliver our deeds and checks to the Town Clerk, so that our clients’ interests in real estate are timely recorded and properly protected. They carry our briefs and papers to court—because not all our critical legal documents can be e-filed. They hand-deliver releases and pick up settlement checks.
Around the office they do tedious tasks that are very important. They answer the phone and greet the clients—the first contact the client has is with the receptionist. They make coffee, for those of us who can’t start our day without it, and bring coffee for our clients who say “yes” when we offer it. They load paper into copiers, and miraculously fix broken machines: paper jams and stapler jams and shredder jams.
They carry boxes of office supplies from the lobby to the supply room. They bring lunches, and pretty much anything else that is needed right now. Sometimes they interpret.
Many people stand on the bottom rung of the pay scale over the lifetime of a law office. They come from all areas of society, and all stages of life. Some are younger and single, but some are older, with families, newly or not so newly laid off from better jobs. All of them work hard. They are expected and required to dress appropriately, come to work on time, stay late if need be, and be pleasant to clients, opposing counsel, and whoever else comes through the door. They do what is asked of them, and they do it well.
In Connecticut, by law, they must earn $8.70 per hour. If they work part time, they need not receive any benefits. When a lawyer bills an hour, he or she essentially pays the messenger for a week. That lawyer should reflect, even for a short time, on what it is like to live on $8.70 an hour, before taxes.
The current administration in Washington says $10.10 an hour is what the minimum wage should be. That may or may not be true across the board, but it is certainly true for the business of lawyering. How do we not pay our trusted messengers $10.10 an hour? They are worth it—we’re in a mess when the messenger stays home.
At Jacobs & Dow, we adopted a $10.10 minimum wage early in February. It was a 16 percent raise, and the extra dollar per hour means a lot to those who receive it. By firm policy, $10.10 an hour is the floor. It’s the least we will pay anyone to do anything for us. We urge all our colleagues to do the same. Our profession has a privileged, leadership position in our society. In exchange for that, we need to do the right thing. So let us lead. $10.10 an hour, effective next payday, for everyone on the payroll who earns less. We can afford it, and it is the right thing to do.
Jonathan Katz is managing partner at Jacobs & Dow in New Haven.