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Lawyer income up

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Lawyer income up

    Net income for the typical Florida lawyer rose by $10,000 over the past two years to an average of $110,000, according to The Florida Bar’s 2006 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 six years.

    The median 2005 net income of $110,000 for Bar members was up from $100,000 in 2003, $85,000 in 2001, $82,000 in 1999, and $75,000 in 1997.

    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 609 lawyers from a sample of 2,574. The 24 percent response rate gives a 4 percent margin of error, according to Mike Garcia, director of the Bar’s Research, Planning, and Evaluation Department.

    The survey found 78 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, or for other employers. Sixty-six percent of respondents report working in a firm or other legal setting with five or fewer lawyers, while 12 percent say they work with 26 or more attorneys. Overall, 78 percent work in firms consisting of 10 or fewer lawyers, with 29 percent saying they are sole practitioners. gender, 31 percent of men are sole practitioners and 24 percent of women work solo. Of all sole practitioners, 10 percent are younger than 35.

    When asked if their firm or legal office is financially better off than it was at this time last year, 46 percent said it was “slightly better” or “much better” than a year ago. Thirty-one percent said it was about the same, while 19 percent said it was “slightly worse” this year, and 4 percent said it was “much worse” this year.

    O verall, 2006 net income reported in the survey ranged from zero to $2.1 million.

    The 2005 median net incomes broken down by legal classification are as follows:

    • Partners, $185,000.

    • Sole practitioners, $105,000.

    • Corporate counsels, $100,000.

    • Associates, $85,000.

    • State government attorneys, $70,000.

    gender, the survey found the average male lawyer netted $120,000 in 2005 and female lawyers earned, on average, $80,000. The typical male lawyer, however, has been in practice for 18 years compared to 10 years for female lawyers, according to the survey. When comparing males and females with five or less years of experience, their net incomes were equal, the survey showed.

    When asked what the average salary levels are for attorneys in their firm, respondents indicated associates fresh out of law school averaged $50,000 in 2006 — up $5,000 from the 2004 survey — while new law grads with some experience made $55,000. The median for lawyers with fewer than three years of experience was $65,000, compared with $75,000 for those in practice three to five years, and $85,000 for those with six to eight years of experience. Associates with more than eight years experience had a median salary of $110,000, up $10,000 from two years ago.

    R espondents also reported 50 percent of their offices’ gross receipts in 2006 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 four years.


    The survey found 66 percent of Florida firms employ legal assistants/paralegals, up from 60 percent in 2000. The typical newly hired legal assistant/paralegal without experience made $30,000 in 2006, up $4,000 from 2004. Current legal assistants/paralegals with less than five years experience made $35,000, while those with five to 10 years experience made $42,500, and those on the job for more than 10 years pulled in $47,000.

    When asked if their firms require any type of standards or certification for paralegals or legal assistants, 14 percent said “yes,” 65 percent answered “no,” and 21 percent didn’t know.

    Of the 74 respondents who answered questions regarding the type of certification or standards their firms require for paralegals or legal assistants, 21 listed “CLA or other certification,” 15 said “prior experience,” 11 report “degree — either college/paralegal,” and nine listed “law students or law degree.” The average salary for newly hired legal secretaries without experience was $27,000, compared with $30,000 for those with less than five years experience, $38,000 for those with five to 10 years of experience, and $42,000 for those current employees with more than 10 years on the job.

    Billable Hours

    The poll showed that 62 percent of all respondents maintain billable hours, and, for those who keep them, 46 percent billed 1,600 hours or more in 2005. Of that group, 21 percent reported that they billed more than 2,000 hours last year.

    Eleven percent billed between 1,401 and 1,600 hours, 13 percent billed from 1,201 to 1,400 hours, 10 percent said they billed from 1,000 to 1,200, and 20 percent less than 1,000 hours.

    The survey found 83 percent of respondents list their hourly rate at $150 or higher, 60 percent report they charge $200 or more, and 18 percent bill $300 or more an hour.

    Fifty-three percent of respondents in private practice report they always use written fee contracts, while 20 percent indicated they seldom or never use them.

    When asked the hourly rate billed for legal work performed by legal assistants or paralegals, 14 percent said more than $120; 11 percent said between $101 and $120; 24 percent indicated between $81 and $100; 31 percent said between $61 and $80; 11 percent said $41 to $60; and 9 percent bill $40 or less for legal assistants or paralegals work.

    Contingency Fees

    Just under half (47 percent) of all respondents report their firms handle contingency fee cases. Of those who accept cases on a contingency basis, the majority say those types of cases comprise less than 25 percent of the total cases they handle. The study found no significant difference since 2000 in the percentage of cases that are handled on a contingency fee basis. Sixty-two percent of those who handle contingency cases report their firm receives 30-39 percent of the amount awarded if the case is won.

    The complete survey may be viewed online.

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