August 1, 2019 Letters
Free Legal Answers Billboards
The concept of providing a little free basic legal advice to people in need is worthy. Billboards, especially electronic ones, advertising the availability of that service is a very bad idea.
Billboards are visual blight. Electronic ones on major roadways are also a distraction because of where they are located, the flashing lights, the changing messages, etc. Those things direct a motorist’s attention away from what it ought focus on, the traffic condition in front of him or her. The messages displayed last only a few seconds, hardly enough time to provide useful information before it disappears and the next message appears. Some of the electronic billboards are located close to residences, providing unwelcome lighting in the night.
I guess that the billboard companies provide free time for these kinds of messages. That allows them to puff their corporate chests out and claim to be providing valuable public service information, an argument they use to justify their existence. After all, who needs to see the rolling pastures in the Ocala area when they can see where to call for free legal advice.
Many advocacy groups work hard to prevent the proliferation of such visual blight. I urge The Florida Bar to discontinue its use of any variety of outdoor advertising to promote this service.
Reading Ms. Salazar’s response to Mr. Goodman’s letter on “Student Debt” in the July News, I was flabbergasted. It is so much more difficult to become a lawyer today than it was in the ’90s.
Ms. Salazar suggests that, if she could do it as a single mother in 1996, then anyone could. That’s simply not the case.
In 1992, the average public law school annual tuition at ABA-accredited schools was a measly $4,015. A private law school would cost you about $13,730 that same year. Today, the average public law tuition school costs $27,160 annually, and the average private law school comes in at $47,754.
Beyond that, the non-tuition costs of attending law school (rent, living expenses, books, etc.), the cost of taking the bar exam, Bar fees, and first-year CLE courses have all increased dramatically since 1996. The barriers to entry are crippling.
Unfortunately, salaries have not followed the same trend. For those who graduated law school in 1996, the average associate salary at a firm with 26-50 people was $52,000. Today, the average first year associate salary in Florida is $50,000.
I agree with Ms. Salazar’s suggestion that The Florida Bar should research and report on the legal job market to potential and current law students. We do need to know what we are getting ourselves into.
But, experienced lawyers have a two-fold responsibility themselves. First, I am deeply troubled by older attorneys who do not understand and do not care to learn about the realities of becoming and being a young lawyer in 2019. Second, partners need to recognize these differences and pay associates a respectable salary; $50,000 isn’t it.
I am fortunate enough to have a job where I can afford my student loans. But many of my peers are doing good work for little pay. Work that must be done. The answer cannot be “I can’t afford to be a lawyer, so I won’t.” The answer must be “I see the work you’re doing, and I’m going to compensate you fairly for it.” That responsibility falls on older attorneys, not the new ones.
I very much appreciate the comments and observations of Ms. Salazar. Not only do I agree that those considering law school should get accurate information on the state of the profession before they go to law school, but I also believe (based only on anecdotal evidence) many of those considering law school are sold the proverbial “bill of goods.”
However, there are two separate issues that cannot be conflated. The first, as Ms. Salazar points out, is giving an accurate report to law school applicants on the costs and benefits of joining the legal profession. The second is all of those new lawyers who were not given accurate information find themselves saddled with tremendous debt in relation to a reasonable income. The first can be addressed through education, as Ms. Salazar suggests, and I commend her suggestion to the Board of Governors. The second, however, is not remedied solely by education, will take a concerted effort to solve, and has the potential for catastrophic effects if not addressed.
A third issue should also be recognized: the high cost of a legal education. Tuition, costs, and fees of attending three years of law school at a state university can be $110,000 for in-state, or $160,000 for out-of-state students. If not addressed, the high cost could become a barrier for middle- and low-income applicants. And, if they cannot afford to go to law school, they cannot become lawyers. I hasten to clarify that I am not blaming the law schools. I am sure that the tuition and fees are commensurate with the costs. Still, I humbly suggest that the cost of a legal education should be a concern not only of the law schools, but also of The Florida Bar and its members.
Maybe I am being like “Chicken Little” running around shouting, “the sky is falling.” The issue is, if I am correct, that the problems and their consequences and effects will increase exponentially if not addressed.