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February 1, 2014
Florida lawyers weigh in on the state of the profession

By Mark D. Killian
Managing Editor

While half of Florida lawyers say they Facebook, the vast majority use the social networking service only for recreational purposes and not work. They also seem to prefer Apple smartphones over Android devices for their mobile phones, while Microsoft products dominate the office setting.

Florida Bar members also think the “oversaturation of lawyers” will have the greatest impact on the profession over the next five years and said balancing family and a high level of stress and work are their top personal concerns.

Those findings were among the conclusions drawn from a study conducted by the Bar’s Research, Planning and Evaluation Department.

Those surveyed also shared their opinions on the Bar’s work as an advocate for the profession, lawyer advertising, and career satisfaction. The survey also 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 survey. Also, 86 percent of respondents rated the Bar’s continuing legal education seminars as either excellent or good.

The 2013 Membership Opinion Survey was mailed to 2,812 randomly selected Bar members and 30 percent of the surveys have 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 3 percent at the 95-percent level of confidence.

Technology
When it comes to office purchases, Microsoft products abound, with 90 percent of respondents reporting they use a version of Microsoft Office as their primary office suite on the computer they use for legal work.

Windows Vista leads the way when asked what operating system respondents use (37 percent); followed by Windows 8 (31 percent); Windows XP (17 percent); Windows ME (7 percent); Mac OS (4 percent); Google Chrome (3 percent); and Windows 7 (1 percent).

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) use Internet Explorer as their browser, followed by Google Chrome (16 percent) and Mozilla Firefox (15 percent).

Asked about their smartphones, 63 percent of Florida lawyers surveyed say they carry an Apple iPhone, followed by 14 percent who have an Android phone. Only 5 percent said they use a Blackberry.

The Apple iPad is the preferred tablet of Florida lawyers who use them (42 percent); followed by Android-based tablets and the Kindle Fire (5 percent each). Forty-four percent of respondents say they don’t use a tablet at all.

Forty-two percent of firms provide their lawyers with a laptop; 33 percent with a smartphone; 21 percent with a mobile data plan; and 14 percent with a tablet.

Social Media
When it comes to social media, half of the respondents participate in Facebook on a personal level, while only 12 percent use it professionally. Thirty-eight percent of those surveyed participate in LinkedIn on a professional level. Twelve percent of respondents say they have a personal Twitter account, but only 3 percent use it for business.

In January 2013, the Bar set up a Facebook page and Twitter feed for announcements and events. The survey found 93 percent of respondents were unaware of the Bar’s Facebook page and 96 percent didn’t know about the Bar’s Twitter feed.

When asked if they were likely to “like” the Bar’s Facebook page, “follow” the Bar’s Twitter feed, or participate in other types of social media platforms with the Bar, 85 percent said they were “somewhat unlikely” or “very unlikely” to do so. Those percentages held steady regardless of the age of the respondent.

When asked if the Bar began using Pinterest, YouTube, or Google+, 91 percent of respondents said they would be “somewhat unlikely” or “very unlikely” to use them to access Bar information.

Sixteen percent say they do not belong to any social networking/online community.

Ninety-seven percent of those surveyed, however, said they did visit the Bar’s website in 2013.

The Economy
The survey found 35 percent of respondents say they have had a decrease in business/profitability over the past two years, while 27 percent reported their business/profitability has remained about the same. Sixteen percent say they have experienced an increase in business/profitability in the past two years. Another 22 percent report the economy does not impact their practice at all.

A higher percentage of lawyers over 50 years of age report having decreased business/profitability over the past two years than their younger colleagues report. Of lawyers 50 to 65, 41 percent report having a decrease in business, and that figure is 35 percent for attorneys over 65 years old. Twenty-six percent of lawyers under 35 and 37 percent of lawyers ages 36 to 49 report a decrease in business/profitability over the past two years.

When asked how their firms were doing compared with other businesses during the current economic downturn, they responded:

* Recovering at the same pace, 27 percent.

* Recovering at a slower pace, 18 percent.

* Recovering at a faster pace, 13 percent.

* Not recovering at all, 10 percent.

* Downturn has had no significant impact on my firm or legal practice, 32 percent.

In response to the economy, 24 percent of respondents say their firms delayed increasing lawyers’ salaries over the past years, and 20 percent adjusted their billing rates. Twelve percent said they instituted a nonlawyer staff hiring freeze, and 11 percent froze lawyer hiring and eliminated bonuses.

Forty-nine percent of all respondents don’t expect the economy will improve for the legal profession “in the near future.”

In light of the current economy, 25 percent of respondents said they have considered changing careers and 14 percent have considered moving to a different field of practice.

The Bar as an Advocate
Asked about the Bar as an advocate for the legal profession, 70 percent of respondents rate the Bar as “excellent” or “good,” up from 41 percent in 1995.

Sixty-nine percent of government practice lawyers rate the Bar as an “excellent” or “good” advocate of the profession compared with 70 percent of all private practice attorneys who do likewise. A large majority of respondents who are 36 to 49 years old (73 percent) rate the Bar as an excellent/good advocate. By gender, 78 percent of women lawyers and 67 percent of men rate the Bar’s advocacy as either excellent or good.

In the past two years, 12 percent of respondents said their opinion toward the Bar had become more positive, while 17 percent said their opinion of the Bar had become more negative. Primary reasons members gave for becoming more positive included: They had become more aware of Bar programs and services offered; establishment of a committee to study the future of law practice; had become more involved with the Bar; and assistance and resources that are provided to new lawyers.

Primary reasons members cited for being more negative include the grievance process is too lenient/failure to discipline unethical attorneys; not enough control over attorney advertising; the Bar allowing for too many attorneys and law schools; the Bar is becoming too political; and the Bar doesn’t adequately represent small firms/sole practitioners.

(The Bar plays no role in the creation of new law schools or in admitting new members to the Bar. That latter role is the charge of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners.)

Career Satisfaction
Asked to list their three most significant challenges or concerns, more than one-third of all respondents (34 percent) listed balancing family and work, while nearly one-third (30 percent) listed high stress. Twenty-two percent cite time management as significant challenges or concerns and 21 percent listed net revenue.

Garcia said there were significant differences across employment classifications concerning the biggest problems lawyers face personally. While the balance of family and work is the most frequently selected category for several classifications, lack of employment opportunities is the most frequently selected category for government attorneys (35 percent). Judges cite keeping up with technology (35 percent). Lack of business (33 percent) is the most frequently selected category for sole practitioners.

When asked about the most serious problems faced by the legal profession today (respondents could list up to three), 49 percent of all respondents said there were too many attorneys — up from 33 percent two years ago. Thirty-one percent citied difficult economic times, and 26 percent listed poor public perception. Almost one quarter (24 percent) cited affordability of legal services and lack of ethics/professionalism (23 percent).

While 78 percent of respondents report that the legal profession has become less desirable as a career over the past few years, 71 percent of respondents also said they are either “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their legal careers. Only 7 percent say they are “very unsatisfied” with their careers, down from 9 percent two years ago.

On a rating scale of one to four (one being “very satisfied” and four “very unsatisfied”), judges report the most job satisfaction, while sole practitioners report the least. Judges weighed in with an average score of 1.50; followed by managing partners, 1.83; partners/shareholders, 1.89; government lawyers, 1.98; corporate counsel, 2.12; associates, 2.14; and sole practitioners, 2.19.

The survey found lawyers older than 50 are more satisfied with their jobs than younger lawyers.

The most frequently mentioned reasons for career dissatisfaction are not enough business (26 percent, up from 17 percent four years ago), salary (20 percent), lack of quality cases (12 percent), job burnout (10 percent), lack of available job opportunities (10 percent), personal stress (8 percent), lack of civility/professionalism (7 percent), client expectations (2 percent), hours required at the office (2 percent), and interaction with the judiciary (2 percent). One percent listed other reasons for their dissatisfaction.

Income
The median income for those polled was $100,000. That figure has not changed in six years.

“Over two-fifths — or 45 percent — of all respondents earned more than $100,000 before taxes from legal work last year,” Garcia said.

Here’s a breakdown of median income before taxes of the respondents: partners/shareholders, $165,000; corporate counsel, $120,000; sole practitioners, $95,000; associates, $75,000; state government attorneys, $55,000.

Male lawyers report a higher median income ($120,000) than female lawyers ($75,000). Garcia notes that the average years of experience for a male lawyer in this survey is 20 years, compared to 12 years of experience for the average female attorney.

Advertising
Eighty-five percent believe lawyer advertising negatively affects the public’s view of lawyers and the legal profession — up from 80 percent two years ago — including 76 percent of respondents whose firms advertise. Only 4 percent said advertising has a favorable effect on the public’s view of lawyers.

Nearly two-thirds (63 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), mobile ads (5 percent), and direct mail (4 percent) were also mentioned as being the most negative forms of advertising. One percent believes Internet/social media advertising most negatively affects the public’s view of the profession.

The survey found 69 percent of members believe the current restrictions on lawyer advertising are “too liberal,” as compared to 20 percent who say they are “balanced,” and 11 percent who say they are “too restrictive.”

The survey also found that 78 percent of all respondents who are employed in firms or offices that advertise use the Internet for advertising purposes, and 31 percent said their firms use social media. Only 21 percent use Yellow Page display ads, down from 41 percent two years ago. Only 7 percent report using TV ads.

Important Issues
Garcia said 39 percent of all respondents say the oversaturation of lawyers will have the greatest impact on the profession over the next five years — up from 23 percent two years ago; followed by technology, 14 percent; access/affordability of legal resources, 10 percent; competition from nonattorneys, 9 percent; lack of appropriate judicial system funding, 8 percent; the economy, 6 percent; public perception, 5 percent; threat to judicial independence, 5 percent; and tort reform, 3 percent.

The complete survey results are available at the Bar by visiting the Bar's website.

[Revised: 04-11-2014]