Florida lawyers think there are too many lawyers practicing, don’t use social media much in their work, overwhelmingly prefer the iPhone and find balancing work and family their biggest stress.
More troubling: female lawyers in Florida are paid far less on average than their male counterparts. The median salary for female lawyers was $75,000 in Florida and for men, $120,000.
These are some of the findings of The Florida Bar in its biennial, 93-page survey of Florida’s lawyers.
The Bar, which has more than 98,000 members, conducts a random survey of lawyers every two years to gauge their views on everything from their pressing concerns to their salaries to their use of software and social media. Some 2,812 questionnaires were sent out and 914 were completed, with a margin of error of 3 percent.
When asked about the three most serious problems facing the legal profession, 49 percent of respondents cited “too many attorneys,” while 31 percent blamed difficult economic times and 26 percent, poor public perception.
By contrast, in 2011, 33 percent of respondents cited too many attorneys as the most serious problem facing the legal profession, 32 percent, difficult economic times and 32 percent, lack of ethics and professionalism.
More respondents—39 percent—cited “oversaturation of attorneys” as the issue that will have the greatest impact on the legal profession in the next five years. Fourteen percent of attorneys listed technology in that category, while 10 percent cited access and affordability of legal resources.
In 2009, respondents’ future concerns were far different: 36 percent cited technology as the issue having the most impact on the legal profession, with just 20 percent citing oversaturation of attorneys. The third-biggest future concern, for 13 percent of respondents, was the economy.
For 34 percent of individuals, balancing family and work was the biggest challenge they face. The next biggest individual concern—for 30 percent of respondents—was stress. Those responses were almost identical in 2011.
Salaries of respondents ranged drastically, with the median salary of government attorneys at $55,000, of associates at $75,000, of solo practitioners at $90,000, of corporate counsel at $120,000 and of partners at $165,000.
However, the median salary of female lawyers was $75,000 while their male counterparts earned $120,000.
All the salaries were about $10,000 lower than in 2007, right before the recession hit.
Sherill Colombo, president of the Miami chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, said the pay disparity between men and women is troubling but not surprising.
“It all boils down to getting business,” Colombo said.
“I don’t think the disparity exists at most firms when you start, or as a five-year lawyer, or a seven-year lawyer. Where it starts to separate is the more senior you get. At the equity partner level, that’s where you see the big differences. Only 12 to 15 percent of equity partners in the Am Law 100 are women.”
The numbers point to a continuing need for female lawyers to increase their marketing and rainmaking efforts, Colombo noted.
“Most common pay structure is you eat what you kill,” she added. “More originations become more important than how many hours you work.”
A whopping 85 percent of respondents said they felt lawyer advertising affects the public’s view of lawyers and the legal profession negatively, while 11 percent said they felt it had no effect. Those responses are largely unchanged since 2005.
The majority of respondents—63 percent—cited television as the most damaging to lawyers’ reputations, with 17 percent blaming billboards.
Sixty-nine percent of lawyers feel restrictions on lawyer advertising are too liberal, while 11 percent feel they are too restrictive.
Yet 78 percent of respondents advertise through an Internet website and 31 percent through social media. Only 21 percent of lawyer advertising is through the Yellow Pages and 17 percent in magazines.
This response has changed dramatically since 2005, when the majority of lawyers—72 percent—advertised in the Yellow Pages, 44 percent on the Internet and none on social media.
When asked to rate judges in their regions, 40 percent said they were good, 14 percent excellent and 38 percent fair. Eight percent of respondents rated their judges as poor.
Respondents feel the public’s view of lawyers and the legal profession is improving. In 1997, 84 percent of respondents said the public’s view of lawyers was less favorable, while that number dropped to 53 percent in 2013. It has steadily dropped over the years.
What’s the best way to improve the public’s view of lawyers? Only 19 percent felt stricter regulation of lawyer advertising would do the trick, and only 17 percent felt public education about the legal system would help. Twenty-seven percent felt a greater number of positive stories about lawyers was key.
Thirty-five percent of respondents said their business and profits have suffered due to the economy, while 27 percent said it has remained steady and 16 percent said their business has improved.
In 2013, 24 percent of respondents said their firm delayed salary increases, 20 percent said they adjusted billing rates, 12 percent said they instituted a non-lawyer staff hiring freeze and 11 percent instituted a lawyer hiring freeze. Others said they laid off staffers, renegotiated office lease and used contract lawyers to save costs.
Forty-nine percent of respondents said they do not anticipate the economy improving in the near future.
Twenty-five percent of respondents said they wanted to change careers, 14 percent want to change practices and six percent are considering starting their own firms.
Not surprisingly, when asked how much stress they experience at work, 46 percent of respondents reported experiencing some stress and 41 percent a great deal. Yet 13 percent of respondents said they experience little or no stress.
On the subject of technology, more respondents use Microsoft Office 2010 (49 percent), Windows Vista (37 percent), Microsoft Internet Explorer (64 percent) and the Apple iPhone (63 percent). Just 14 percent use an Android phone and only 5 percent have hung on to their BlackBerrys, once the darling of lawyers.
However, only a small percentage of lawyers are using sophisticated case management programs, litigation support software or document management systems, although 49 percent of respondents use Microsoft Powerpoint.
Social media is also not terribly popular with lawyers at work. Just 12 percent reported using Facebook at work (although 50 percent use it at home) and 3 percent use Twitter. Thirty-eight percent do use LinkedIn, the primary job networking site.
Judging from the survey, Florida lawyers are stepping up to do pro bono work. Fifty-one percent provided free legal services to poor people, 29 percent to a charitable or nonprofit organization and 6 percent to civil rights groups. Thirty percent said they did not handle any pro bono cases in the last year.
Twenty-nine percent of those that aren’t doing pro bono work say it’s because of time constraints while 22 percent said they are simply “not interested.”
Along the same lines, 63 percent of attorneys said they feel lawyers have become more money-oriented and 77 percent said they feel relationships between attorneys have become more adversarial.
Greg Coleman, president-elect of The Florida Bar, said he and Bar leaders are frustrated that respondents are most concerned about an oversaturation of lawyers—and believe The Bar can remedy the situation.
“It’s frustrating because for whatever reason the members of The Bar and the public think we have some control over the number of lawyers in the state of Florida, and we have zero control,” he said. “The American Bar Association regulates and accredits the law schools, which are spitting out more lawyers, and the Florida Board of Bar Examiners decides what attorneys receive licenses.”
Coleman also said he was encouraged that the vast majority of respondents support The Bar’s continuing efforts to regulate lawyer advertising.
“Florida is the toughest state in the country when it comes to regulating lawyer advertising,” he said. “We have continued down that path because it is the right thing to do. It’s balancing the First Amendment with not allowing or encouraging deceptive and misleading advertising.”