Record number of Florida lawyers rate the Bar as an excellent or good advocate for the profession
A great majority of Florida lawyers are pleased with The Florida Bar’s stewardship of the legal profession, according to the 2019 Membership Opinion Survey.
Eighty-two percent of all respondents rated The Florida Bar as an excellent or good advocate for the profession, the highest rating ever received for that question, which dates to 1995, said Mike J. Garcia, the Bar’s director of Research, Planning & Evaluation, adding that 15% of the lawyers responding to the survey also said their opinion of the Bar is more positive today than it was two years ago.
The survey, conducted every two years, also found:
• 93% percent of respondents who participated in a Florida Bar CLE seminar in the past year rate the overall quality of the program as excellent/good, compared to less than 1% who rate it as poor.
• 78% of respondents agree that the Bar promotes high standards of ethics and competence in the legal profession, compared to just 10% who disagree.
• 72% of respondents agree the Bar is a supportive and cohesive organization interested in the well-being of its members (up from 67% two years ago), compared to just 11% who disagree.
• 54% of all respondents agree The Florida Bar does an effective job in attempting to educate the public about the legal system, compared to 19% who disagree.
• 68% of respondents agree the Bar is responsive to the needs of its members, compared to 12% who disagree.
• 67% of all respondents agree that their work and personal life has good balance, compared to 23% who disagree.
• 68% of all respondents report that their firm or legal office has a hurricane or disaster preparedness plan.
“The survey results show a very high level of member satisfaction, which is reflective of both the efficient and effective leadership of the Board of Governors and other Bar leaders, coupled with a dedicated Bar staff,” Garcia said.
Those surveyed also shared their opinions on lawyer advertising, technology, pro bono, 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.
The survey found Florida Bar members also think there are too many lawyers in the state and they are less concerned about competition from nonlawyers as they were in the past. High levels of stress and balancing family and work are also top personal concerns.
Seventy-one percent of all respondents agree that the public does not have confidence in the existing legal system, compared to 11% who disagree.
The 2019 Membership Opinion Survey was emailed to 3,850 randomly selected Bar members, and 27% of the surveys were returned. Garcia said for this sample, the error of estimation rate is just over 3% at the 95% level of confidence.
Garcia said 37% of all respondents say the oversaturation of lawyers will have the greatest impact on the profession over the next five years, while 13% of respondents say technology will have the greatest impact, followed closely by threats to judicial independence at 9% percent, public perception, 8%, and competition from non-attorneys, 7%, which is down from 18% two years ago.
Asked to list their three most significant challenges or concerns, 41% said balancing family and work, while 38% cited high stress. Twenty-three percent said time management was a significant challenge or concern, and 20% listed client expectations.
While 72% of respondents report the profession is becoming somewhat or much less desirable as a career, 76% of those polled also agree that they are satisfied with their legal careers, compared to 16% who disagree.
When asked which of The Florida Bar strategic planning objectives is most important to them:
• 37% said enhance and improve the value of Florida Bar membership and the Bar’s relationship with its members.
• 26% said ensure the judicial system, a coequal branch of government, is fair, impartial, adequately funded and open to all.
• 25% said enhance the public’s trust and confidence in attorneys and the justice system.
• 6% said strive for equal access to and availability of legal services.
• 6% said continue to encourage and promote diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the profession and the justice system.
Asked about the most serious problems faced by the profession today (respondents could list up to three), over two-fifths (44%) of all respondents report that too many attorneys is one of the most serious problems faced by the legal profession, while nearly one-third (31%) report a lack of ethics/professionalism, and 24% said the poor public perception of lawyers. Other concerns included:
• Court overload, 21%
• Quality of the judiciary, 21%
• Lawyer advertising, 20%
• Affordability of legal services, 19%
• Frivolous lawsuits, 19%
• Client expectations, 17%
• Over-emphasis on billable hours, 15%
• Threat to judicial independence, 14%
• Lack of appropriate judicial system funding, 13%
• Emergence of online legal service providers, 10%
• Quality of beginning attorneys, 8%
• Public access to the courts, 6%
• Difficult economic times, 5%
• Other, 5% (The most frequently mentioned problem under the “Other” category involves attorney mental health and wellness.)
Since 2015, the percentage who cite there are too many lawyers has decreased from 52% to 44%; difficult economic times has gone from 21% to 5%; and those listing a lack of appropriate judicial funding as a concern has fallen from 19% in 2015 to 13% today.
More than half of respondents (52%) report that the public’s view of lawyers and the legal profession has become less favorable over the past five years.
Slightly more than half (51%) of all respondents report that they provided free legal services within the past year to people of limited means. Over one-third (35%) report that they did not handle any pro bono cases in the past year. Three-fifths (60%) of all respondents said they are likely to provide pro bono services in the next 12 months, compared to just over one-fifth (21%) who indicate they are unlikely to do so.
When asked if their legal office is having difficulty adapting to changes in legal technology, 65% of all respondents said no compared to 19% who said they were experiencing difficulties.
When they need tech help, 46% said they rely on the services of an in-firm consultant/IT department, while 41% look for assistance from an outside consultant or technology support group for their tech or cybersecurity assistance needs. One-quarter (25%) said they rely on self-knowledge.
Eighty percent of all respondents are very or somewhat concerned with digital security breaches and cybersecurity/client data privacy. Less than one-third (31%) of all respondents are very or somewhat concerned with block chain technology/cryptocurrency.
Over two-fifths of all respondents rely on self-knowledge (43%) or other lawyers/colleagues (42%) for practice management assistance.
While only 22% of all respondents agree that online or alternative legal service providers directly compete with them or their law firm for business, 56% of respondents say online or alternative legal service providers should be regulated.
Asked about the competence and fitness of judges in their region, 62% of respondents rated their judges as either excellent or good, up from 58% two years ago.
The median income for those polled was $100,000. That figure has not changed in 12 years. Seventy-three percent of all respondents reported a total household income of more than $100,000 in 2019.
Eighty-three percent believe lawyer advertising negatively affects the public’s view of lawyers and the legal profession. Only 5% percent said advertising has a favorable effect on the public’s view of lawyers, while 12% said advertising has no effect.
Of the various types of lawyer advertising, 50% of respondents report that television advertising by lawyers has the most negative effect on the public’s view of lawyers and the legal profession. Billboards, at 26%, is also reported with some frequency.
The percentage of respondents who believe television is the form of lawyer advertising that most negatively affects the public’s view of lawyers and the legal profession has decreased since 2013 (from 63% to 50%), while the percentage of respondents who believe billboards is the form of advertising that most negatively affects the public’s view of lawyers and the legal profession has increased since 2013 (from 17% to 26%).
The survey also found 68% of members believe the current restrictions on lawyer advertising are “too liberal,” as compared to 22% who say they are “balanced,” and 10% who say they are “too restrictive.”