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The Florida Bar: Florida lawyers find satisfaction in the law
Posted on March 20, 2017

Florida lawyers appear generally satisfied with their lives in the law when it comes to their relationships with co-workers, challenging responsibilities, and job security, according to lawyers participating in The Florida Bar’s 2016 Economics and Law Office Management Survey.

A full B1 percent report satisfaction with job security, and 93 percent of respondents say they are satisfied with their relationships with co-workers.

When asked if they would pursue the legal profession as a career if they were making the decision again, 57 percent said “yes,” 20 percent said “no,” and 23 percent of respondents were “not sure.”

Twenty-eight percent of respondents report that profitability increased over the past two years due to a rising economy, and 37 percent expect to see an increase in bus¡ness in the next two years.

The survey also found that 24 percent of respondents adjusted their billing rates in 2016 due to the economic climate, with 11 percent reporting their firms delayed lawyer salary increases last year. However, that was less than what was reported four years ago, when 30 percent of respondents said they delayed increasing pay for their lawyers due to the economy. Also. only 4 percent of respondents reported a lawyer hiring freeze at their offices in 2076, compared with 14 percent four years ago.

The number of firms reporting nonlawyer staff hiring freezes has also dropped from 14 percent in 2012 to 5 percent in 2016.

Fewer firms are laying oft staff because of fiscal constraints compared to six years ago. Only 4 percent said their firms la¡d off nonlawyer staffers in 2016, down from 22 percent who reported downsizing support staff in 2010.

Fifty-four 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 2016. Forty-nine percent didn’t provide their support staffs with annual performance or merit salary increases ¡n 2016, either down from 73 percent in 2014.

Technology budgets at law firms are anticipated to increase for 2OL7, say 38 percent of Florida lawyers’ and 34 percent plan to increase spending to upgrade their websites. Another 26 percent plan to ramp up spending for social media, and 24 percent will boost online advertising buys.

Nearly three-fifths (59 percent) of respondents report their firms use an hourly rate as a primary method for billing, while 17 percent report using a combination of methods, including fixed or flat fees and contingency fees.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents report that clients’ expectations are among factors currently having a major impact on their ability to successfully practice law and nearly half (49 percent) repoÌt work-life balance as a factor having a major impact.

Seventy-seven percent of respondents report their firms pay their annual Bar fees.

At a time when the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice is addressing what it calls a “crisis” of the lack of civil legal access for low-income and middle-class Floridians, 57 percent of survey respondents “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that the legal needs of Floridians are currently being met, compared to 22 percent who disagree.

The Bar poll ¡s taken every other year to keep lawyers informed on what their colleagues are doing ¡n various areas of law office management. This year’s survey was completed by 705 lawyers from a random sample of 2,810 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 w¡th no experience in 2016 held steady from 2014 at 950,000. Lawyers with fewer than three years of experience are averaging $65,000 a year, up $5,000 from two 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 $85,000, up $5,000 from two years ago. Lawyers with more than eight years on the job are averaging 9100,000 per year, and partners and shareholders are pulling in an average of $150,000 a year.

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 four years ago and billing for 26 of those hours. Managing partners (54 hours) consistently report working the most hours in an average week. Corporate counsel and sole practitioners report regularly working 46 hours per week, and state government lawyers clock in at 45 hours per week. The survey found no difference between men and women in the number of hours they put in per week.

The 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.

Sixty-five percent of respondents reported either operating a solo practice or working in a firm or other legal setting with five or fewer lawyers, while 13 percent say they work with more than 25 attorneys, Overall, 76 percent operate a solo practice or work ¡n firms cons¡sting 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 the¡r 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 the other firm expenses. All those percentages have held steady over the past 12 years.

Technology

Seventy-one percent of respondents report that technology has changed their relationships with clients, with 65 percent of those saying it has been for the better and 6 percent claiming it’s for the worse.

Only 14 percent of respondents said their firm carries cyber liability insurance, but 58 percent said they are not sure or are unaware of what cyber liability insurance is.

In a multiple-response question asking where they generally go for technology or cyber security assistance, more than half of respondents (54 percent) hired outside consultants, while 52 percent have consultants on the firm’s payroll, and 24 percent seek help from friends or family members, and 15 percent from the internet and websites.

Most Florida lawyers stay connected using smart phones, and of those 74 percent use an Apple iPhone.

More than half of respondents participate in LinkedIn (53 percent) and Facebook (51 percent). Seventeen percent use Google+ and 16 percent are on Instagram and Twitter. Eighteen percent indicate they do not participate in any social network/online community.

Billable Hours

The poll showed that 64 percent of all respondents maintain billable hours, and, for those who keep them, 41 percent billed 1,600 hours or more in 2016. Of that group, 28 percent reported that they billed more than 1,800 hours, while 33 percent report billing 1,000 hours or less.

The survey found 81 percent of respondents list their hourly rate at being over $200 up from 73 percent two years ago while 36 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. When asked if they intended to change their hourly rate in 2017, 55 percent of respondents say they plan to hold steady on their hourly rate, while 29 percent say they plan to increase it.

Contingency Fees

One-third (33 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 major¡ty say those types of cases comprise 25 percent or less of the total cases handled Seventy-six percent of those handling contingency cases report receiving 33 to 40 percent of the award for winning the case, up from 68 percent in 2014.

In the Office

The survey found 43 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 bi¡led, 67 percent of respondents said their accounts receivable are current; 19 percent are 31 to 90 days late; 7 percent are 91 to 120 days behind; and 7 percent are more than 120 days in arrears.

When it comes to accepting payment, 75 percent of respondents said their offices accept checks; 41 percent accept Visa and Mastercard; 27 percent take American Express; 21 percent accept debit cards; 20 percent honor Discover Card; and 7 percent accept PayPal. Forty-seven percent of respondents say they accept cash. and 44 percent take wire transfers.

Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed said they carry professional liability insurance.

The survey also found that only 39 percent of law offices in the state had a hurricane or disaster-preparedness plan.