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Bar survey looks at law firm economics

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Bar survey looks at law firm economics

The median hourly rate for Florida attorneys now sits at $300, according to lawyers participating in The Florida Bar’s 2018 Economics and Law Office Management Survey.

That means half of in-state Florida Bar members bill at over $300 per hour, compared to only 24 percent who reported billing more than $300 an hour in the Bar’s 2012 survey. Thirty-seven percent of respondents also say they will likely increase their hourly rate in 2019.

A full 85 percent of Florida lawyers answering the survey report satisfaction with their job security, and 93 percent of respondents say they are satisfied with their relationships with co-workers. Yet, when asked if they would pursue the legal profession as a career if they were making the decision again, 47 percent said “yes” — compared to 57 percent two-years ago — 24 percent said “no,” and 29 percent of respondents were “not sure.”

Twenty-eight percent of respondents report that their profitability increased over the past two years due to a rising economy, and 33 percent expect to see an increase in business in the next two years.

Of those respondents who report having a standard hourly billing rate, 50 percent report it has increased over the past two years.

Forty percent of respondents in offices of two or more attorneys also said their firms did not have an annual performance/merit salary increase for attorneys in 2018. Forty-one percent didn’t provide their support staffs with annual performance or merit salary increases in 2018, either — down from 73 percent in 2014.

Eighty-three percent of respondents report their firms pay their annual Bar fees and 68 percent pick up the tab for CLE courses.

The Bar 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 682 lawyers from a random sample of 3,284 in-state members. The response rate gives a 4 percent margin of error at a 95 percent level of confidence, according to Mike J. Garcia, director of the Bar’s Research, Planning, and Evaluation Department.

Compensation

Survey respondents indicated the median salary for recent law school grads with no experience in 2018 again held steady from 2014 at $50,000. Lawyers with fewer than three years of experience are averaging $65,000 a year, up $5,000 from four years ago; $75,000 for those in practice three to five years, up $5,000 from 2014.

Lawyers with six to eight years’ experience are averaging $90,000, up $5,000 from two years ago. Lawyers with more than eight years on the job are averaging $100,000 per year, and partners and shareholders are pulling in an average of $150,000 a year, the same as two years ago. Lawyers in the northern region of the state make slightly less than their colleagues in the central/southwest and southern regions of Florida.

Only 63 percent of those surveyed said they are satisfied with their salary and fringe benefits.

Florida lawyers also reported spending an average of 50 hours in the office each week — the same as six years ago — and billing for 25 of those hours. Managing partners (53 hours) consistently report working the most hours in an average week. Corporate counsel and sole practitioners report regularly working 47 hours per week, and state government lawyers clock in at 45 hours per week. Associates, practitioners with one or more associates and partners/shareholders spent 50 hours a week in the office. The survey found no difference between men and women in the number of hours they put in per week.

The survey results indicate 79 percent of Florida lawyers are in private practice, while 15 percent are government lawyers or judges. The remainder work as corporate counsel, for legal aid offices, for other employers, or are not employed.

Almost a quarter (24 percent) of all women respondents) are employed in government practice positions, compared to nine percent of male respondents. The survey also found 31 percent of male respondents were in managing partner or partner/shareholder positions, compared to 12 percent of female respondents.

Sixty-four percent of respondents reported either operating a solo practice or working in a firm or other legal setting with five or fewer lawyers, while 16 percent say they work with more than 25 attorneys. Overall, 74 percent operate a solo practice or work in firms consisting of 10 or fewer lawyers, with 35 percent indicating they are in offices consisting of only one attorney. Respondents also reported, on average, 50 percent of their offices’ gross receipts went to pay the lawyers in the office, while 20 percent went to support-staff salaries. The remaining 30 percent covered all other firm expenses. All those percentages have held steady over the past 14 years.

Disruptive Lawyers

When asked how often they encounter “disruptive” or “unruly” lawyers, 68 percent of respondents say they “frequently” (16 percent) or “occasionally” do. Another 27 percent say they “rarely” do. Three percent say never and two percent report they don’t work with other lawyers.

When asked if the Bar should seek to establish a mechanism to discipline “consistently disruptive and unruly” lawyers separate from the current discipline process, 39 percent said “Yes – it should offer a separate diversion program as an alternative to discipline for disruptive and unruly lawyers”; 8 percent said “Yes – it should offer a separate diversion program that includes a mandatory medical evaluation and treatment plan”; 27 percent said “No – it is too subjective an issue”; 17 percent said “No – I am not in favor of establishing a separate diversion program for disruptive and unruly lawyers”; and 9 percent had no opinion.

Technology

Seventy-five percent of respondents report that technology has changed their relationships with clients, with 67 percent of those saying it has been for the better and 8 percent claiming it’s for the worse.

In a multiple-response question asking where they generally go for technology or cyber security assistance, more than half of respondents (53 percent) hired outside consultants, while 50 percent have consultants on the firm’s payroll, 26 percent rely on self-knowledge, 22 percent seek help from friends or family members, and 15 percent turn to the internet and websites for help. Only 7 percent said they seek help from the Bar.

Billable Hours

The poll showed that 65 percent of all respondents maintain billable hours, and, for those who keep them, 39 percent billed 1,600 hours or more in 2018. Of that group, 29 percent reported that they billed more than 1,800 hours last year, while 33 percent report billing 1,000 hours or less.

The survey found 85 percent of respondents list their hourly rate at being over $200, while 49 percent report their hourly rate at being over $300. In 2010, the number of lawyers who reported they charge in excess of $300 an hour was only 14 percent.

Contingency Fees

One-third (32 percent) of all respondents report their firms handle contingency fee cases, down from 50 percent since 2002. Of those who accept cases on a contingency basis, the majority say those types of cases comprise 25 percent or less of the total cases handled. Sixty-three percent of those handling contingency cases report receiving 33 to 40 percent of the award for winning the case.

In the Office

The survey found 41 percent of respondents report an average monthly accounts receivable balance of $10,000 or less, and 24 percent report an average balance of more than $50,000. Of total fees billed, 70 percent of respondents said their accounts receivable are current; 16 percent are 31 to 90 days late; 6 percent are 91 to 120 days behind; and 8 percent are more than 120 days in arrears.

Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed said they carry professional liability insurance, the same as two-years ago.

The survey found that 41 percent of law firms or legal offices were impacted by a hurricane/disaster in the past three years, but only 38 percent had a hurricane or disaster-preparedness plan.