Let the economic good times roll

first_img Let the economic good times roll Let the economic good times roll Florida Bar survey finds lawyers’ earnings are up across the board Mark D. Killian Managing Editor Income for the typical Florida lawyer rose by $15,000 over the past two years to an average of $100,000, according to The Florida Bar’s 2004 Economics and Law Office Management Survey.Florida lawyers in private practice also reported spending an average 50 hours each week in the office and billing for 30 of those hours — numbers similar to those reported for the past four years.The median 2003 income of $100,000 for Bar members was up from $85,000 in 2001, $82,000 in 1999, and from $75,000 in 1997.Complete survey results may be obtained from the Bar’s Research, Planning, and Evaluation Department by sending in the coupon at the bottom of this page.The poll is taken every other year to keep lawyers informed on what their colleagues are doing in various areas of law office management. This year’s survey was completed by 459 lawyers from a sample of 2,751. The 17 percent response rate — much lower than past surveys and attributed to the four hurricanes that arrived during the time the survey was distributed — gives a 5 percent margin of error, according to Mike Garcia, director of the Bar’s Research, Planning, and Evaluation Department.The survey found 77 percent of Florida lawyers are in private practice, while 16 percent are government lawyers or judges. The remainder work as corporate counsel, for legal aid offices, or for other employers. Sixty-six percent of respondents report working in a firm or other legal setting with five or fewer lawyers, while 11 percent say they work with 26 or more attorneys. Salaries and Benefits Overall, 2004 income reported in the survey ranged from zero to $1.4 million.Associates fresh out of law school averaged $45,000 in 2004 — up $5,000 from the 2002 survey — while new law grads with some experience made $50,000. The median for lawyers with fewer than three years of experience was $55,000, compared with $70,000 for those in practice three to five years, and $80,000 for those with six to eight years of experience.Associates with more than eight years experience had a median income of $100,000, up $10,000 from two years ago.The survey found a partner or shareholder typically made $135,000, up $10,000 from two years ago. Sole practioners reported a median income of $85,000, up $10,000 from two years ago, and state government lawyers had a median income of $50,000, also up $5,000 from two years ago.Respondents reported 50 percent of their offices’ gross receipts in 2004 went to pay the lawyers in the office, while 20 percent went to support staff salaries, and the remaining 30 percent paid for all the other firm expenses, percentages that all held steady over the past two years.The survey found 65 percent of Florida firms employ legal assistants/paralegals. The typical newly hired legal assistant/paralegal without experience made $26,000 last year. Current legal assistants/paralegals with less than five years experience made $30,500, while those with five to 10 years experience made $40,000, and those on the job for more than 10 years pulled in $45,000.The average salary for newly hired legal secretaries without experience was $25,000, compared with $28,000 for those with less than five years experience, $35,000 for those with five to 10 years of experience, and $39,500 for those current employees with more than 10 years on the job. Billable Hours The poll showed that 63 percent of all respondents maintain billable hours and for those that keep them, 54 percent billed 1,600 hours or fewer in 2003. Ten percent billed between 1,601 and 1,800 hours, 16 percent billed from 1,801 to 2,000 hours, and 19 percent said they billed more than 2,000 hours.The survey found 78 percent of respondents list their hourly rate at $150 or higher and 13 percent said they charge $300 or more an hour.Fifty-one percent of respondents in private practice report they always use written fee contracts, while 20 percent indicated they seldom or never use them. The survey also showed 67 percent of all respondents use a written fee contract to disclose what costs will be charged to clients and the basis/rate for such costs, while 13 percent said they provide a separate written disclosure on billings, and 13 percent said they disclose what costs will be charged to clients orally. At least three-quarters of all private practice respondents included an itemized list of services performed (79 percent) and an itemized list of disbursements (75 percent) in their billing statements to clients. Contingency Fees Just under half (49 percent) of all respondents report that their firms handle contingency fee cases. Of those who accept cases on a contingency fee basis, the majority say those types of cases comprise less than 25 percent of the total number of cases they handle. The study found no significant difference since 2000 in the percentage of cases that are handled on a contingency fee basis.Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of those who handle contingency fee cases report their firm receives between 30 and 39 percent of the amount awarded if the case is won.center_img January 15, 2005 Managing Editor Regular Newslast_img

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