Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Just Join the Court-Appointed List!

That's a bit of advice that comes from non-lawyers all the time.  When I was laid off, I was told I should just join the court appointed list and I would have an instant client base.  Well, I didn't get very far.  In order to join the list, you must show that you have a certain amount of experience in criminal law, i.e. a trial or two under you belt.  Although I would have loved to foray into criminal defense, I lacked the appropriate experience and I tucked away that bit of advice for a day when I'd feel more comfortable with criminal law.
Now, it's been eliminated as a possibility here in New York City.  There were barely any waves in the news about the latest decision of His Majesty Mayor Bloomberg--perhaps because it will affect lawyers primarily.  Later, it will affect indigent criminal defendants as well.
Basically, here's the article, but I'll summarize:
About 1,100 attorneys in New York make a living through a court-appointed list (i.e. 18-B attorneys).  It's my understanding that you can make a decent living through 18-B assignments alone, but the trade-off is that the hourly rates are low and the Court often slashes the amount of time you've spent on the case.  So, if you defend a rape case and you claim 25 hours, the Court will say, it took you only 15 and you will make a sub-par hourly rate ($75 or $60/hr depending).  Nonetheless, you can up to $100,000 a year with such cases--according to my source.  Of course, there are 18-B attorneys that don't take full advantage of the cases, but supplement their private practices.  Please feel free to correct me if you know better.  The benefit is that the the pay is guaranteed and the source of clients is never-ending--until now.
Bloomberg decided that 18-B attorneys cost too much to be sustainable and would rather set up Legal Aid Offices to represent indigent defendants.  So, like that, with a wave of his majestic scepter King Bloomberg eliminated "jobs" for 1,100 attorneys.
Of course, the Legal Aid Offices that are set up will hire attorneys to deal with the same cases. But how many?  There are 5 boroughs.  I would assume that each borough will have something between 50 and 75 attorneys each--making approximately $45,000 a year.  Once again, feel free to disagree with me.  $45,000 sounds like a wonderful wage for so many of my unemployed readers, but it's hardly a sustainable income in New York Shitty when coupled with law school debt.
So, this story did not make a splash, but I feel it must be noted as another stab to the corpse of the Legal Market.  Don't forget the support staff that these 1,100 attorneys likely employed. Poof!  There goes their jobs as well.  Lastly, we must remember the indigent defendants who are likely to get sub-par work from a understaffed Legal Aid Office and an underpaid attorney.


  1. So what? Either its worth it for the individual lawyer to work for $45k a year, or it isn't. If its not enough money, go elsewhere. If you can't go elsewhere, then its probably a good deal and the belly-aching should stop.

  2. Of course, but the point is... that there are more hungry lawyers out there and less jobs AND it didn't make ATL. More lawyers on the market mean less jobs for attorneys. It's not belly-aching, it's news.

  3. 45k is just not enough for me!!! Just because you think that going to law school will make you a millionaire doesn't make it true. The poverty line in the united states last time I checked was at 18.5k. 85% of the world lives below that line. But this American believes that 45k is just not good enough for him/her.

    The reason he/she is able to occupy a position that CAN believe this, is because he/she apparently does not have bills to pay.

    And FYI the vast majority of New Yorkers live on under 45k, so your claim that "new york is too expensive for such a salary" is a bogus (re)production of bourgeois false consciousness that is clearly proven wrong by the facts.

  4. get a job you suburban emulator of the wealthy and learn how to live within your means

  5. I have awoken the lemmings. How is 45K enough when you have student loans? IBR is only a short term solution that dooms you to low salary.... If you don't get it, then I can't make you get it.

  6. I was on the court appointed list for various family law courts (Juvenile, Child Support) right out of law school, without any experience. The judges and other attorneys were welcoming and the work, though low paying, was plentiful.

    That being said, last year a TTTT law school opened in my city. In four years, these courts are going to see a huge influx of hungry solo practitioners and happy salary would be gone.

  7. This change is actually a benefit to indigent defendants. Institutional providers of public defense are able to pool their knowledge instead of acting as lone islands of knowledge against a coordinated adversary (the DA's office) and have co-existed with the 18-B panel for quite some time. Generally speaking, Legal Aid and the alternate institutional defenders have higher acquittal rates and better plea bargains than the 18-B panel.

    Sure, it's not good for 18-B lawyers. But it does make sure that indigent clients get real public defenders and works to ensure a consistency in the quality of representation.

  8. The guy making the pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps argument and quit whining is a complete idiot that has no idea what he/she is talking about. I live in NJ, but I can tell you that $45K/year is poverty level in NYC when you take into account exorbitant rent AND exorbitant student loan debt. In fact, $45K in NJ is still difficult to survive. It just isn't feasible. Good luck paying off your student loans. HAIL to KING/GOD BLOOMBERG!!!

  9. Hey, I just discovered your blog and the whole law school-scam-blog genre, but I am most gratified to have done so because I have been thinking about all this for years. I graduated from Pitt Law School in 1993, in the middle of a downturn in legal employment. I went to law school on the advice of one whose opinion I valued, who had assured me that a law degree would be valuable even if I didn't end up practicing law. I had aptitude, if you believe the LSAT; I scored a 46, which placed me in the 99.2 percentile. Well, I wound up hating the study of law. I also came to understand that the great economic rewards the public associates with the law usually don't happen, and when they do, it's only after grinding toil. Hmm...a career involving a punishing amount of work of the dullest sort...I definitely was not cut out for that! I didn't care for most of my fellow law students very much, either; they tended to be boring grinds or, more irritatingly, incipient Babbits. When I would express my dissatisfactions with the law as a field of study or a career, other students tended to get uncomfortable, as if I'd espoused some kooky idea unworthy of serious discussion. It was lonely, being an unenthusiastic pessimist in law school. My grades were above average, but not good enough to get me on law review. BigLaw wouldn't give me the time o' day. That was actually OK by me; hell, my lack of enthusiasm probably showed. Unfortunately, my efforts to get clerkships or shitlaw jobs came to nothing. I'm a government (county) lawyer today, but it would never have happened if not for my father's connections with certain county commissioners, which early on helped me to get a part-time public defender job so I could gain know-how and experience. Am I uncomfortably aware of how much I have benefitted from connections? You bet your ass. I truly believe that, without my father's political connections, I would have been completely fucked as far as working in the law goes. Oh, and of course, as a government lawyer, I've never made much money, and my job security depends on elections and other political developments, thus inducing stress I could do without. I just wanted to share my story, and thus add my voice to the rest of those exhorting young people to avoid the scam that is law school, the unfulfilling career that is the law, and the quagmire of debt through which so many young lawyers are toiling.

  10. "The poverty line in the united states last time I checked was at 18.5k. 85% of the world lives below that line. But this American believes that 45k is just not good enough for him/her."

    Ever heard of "cost of living," you numbnutz? Purchasing power? People in Mumbai, India can live on 1/4 of what an average New Yorker can. People in Rio and Buenos Aires can live on less as well. Even lower for the rural areas.

    While 45k is wealthy in Beijing, 45k is paltry for someone who works in Manhattan and is expected to have a professional wardrobe and appearance while paying off student loan debt, taxes, and high rent payments.

  11. The "legal aid" decision is probably about political payback. It is no doubt lining the pocket or ego of someone who was helpful to someone else.

    I don't know anyone who was ever able to make a living on the panels without prior DA or legal aid experience so I am not sure if there is much loss to new graduates.

    Legal Aid will hire but they will hire persons with minority status, and a few token non minorities with degrees from top schools, first and foremost. Maybe some graduates with hard to find foreign languages with get positions if they speak something very rare like Farsi.

    Being there to hire minority students is one of the key missions of Legal Aid. They believe, rightly or wrongly, that race is an issue when it comes to providing good representation.

    I am not saying that this is wrong. I am just saying that the schools should let prospective students know that their chances of getting a public service or Legal Aid position as a non minority candidate are much lower. Most law students believe that if they want to help poor people that they will always be able to find work. Of course, this is one of many lies that the
    law schools perpetuate.

    Ever wonder why Legal Aid says that there are not enough lawyers to represent the poor, while at the same time they REFUSE to take on volunteer law school graduates (even ones that did well at their lower tier schools)?

    People who say things like "sign up for panels" don't know anything.

  12. I would also like to thank everyone for starting the "Scam Busters" movement.

    I graduated top of the bottom at around the same time as Pitt Grad. I actually liked law school. I did not like the professors, but I enjoyed studying the law. I got good grades, but also would never have worked "but for" a family connection.

    I got three or four years experience working 10+ and overnight doing something that I really loved for a wage that kept me to poor to even imagine the day when I might live in a clean decent place and/or sleep on a real bed.

    After taking some time off to raise my kids, my career was worth less than "cost" of childcare, I am coming back into the same situation that I started with. It is sad that going fourth tier brands a person forever like a grade "C" side of beef. No matter how good a job I do or did, I will be viewed this way. Since I moved to a new state my garbage degree, which I worked hard for, is worth even less than worthless.

    I remember back in the day (circa 1994), when I marched into the Career Planning and Placement office to ask them how it was possible that median salary was about $50K when I knew for a FACT that 95% of our class was unemployed and I knew for a fact that at least 60% of the last year's class was not working. They told me that I didn't know what I was talking about, but I listed almost the entire class and told them one by one who was working, and where, and who wasn't. Then, I asked them if they thought that I was lying.

    The Assistant Dean of Career Planning said that I "did not understand" statistics. She explained that they only counted the stats of those employed who reported their earnings. They admitted that if a student did NOT fill out a form indicating employment status that that NO attempt was made to track them. Now, of course, I was never offered such a form to fill out. No one who came into the office crying their eyes out looking for work was ever offered such a form.

    Then, they explained that the ZERO earnings of those unemployed were never factored in so there was no point in them filling out a form. I insisted that there were many people working retail/reception making like $100 - $200 a week who should have been included, she repeated that I "did not understand statistics."

    Then, while I sat there looking through the slim binder of fake "help wanted" listings, they did the thing that really killed me. I heard them call down to the minority student group and specifically request their employment results. The assistant said to the "dean" of career planning something like . . . we had better get the minority stats this year because we NEED their numbers. They said this right in front of me as if I didn't exist.

    So now I could see their entire game. I could also see that they didn't care about me one bit. In fact, I could see that they hated me as much as I hated them.

    P.S. I said above that the help wanted listings were fake because they actually took those listings from public places like newspapers or government posting sites. They made the listings appear as if they had come through the law school's office. This was to make students think that they might have a chance when in fact they had none. They also gave out fake internships. They made deals with the DAs office and other places to allow interns to come in and work, but there were never going to be any hires (unless they had connections). Of course, a big show was made of having us compete for these wonderful non-opportunities. It was all a scam designed to keep up enrolled until graduation.

    1. The minority scam has been around for freaking years but is intensifying. It is awe inspiring in its racism and vile in its results.

  13. I do realize that to many people, $45,000 is a lot of money. I wish the people who posted those comments and would explain a little about how they do live on this amount in NYC.

    After taxes, you will probably make around $34,000 or so. That is a little more than $650 a week or about $2600 a month. If your rent is probably at least $1,000, then you are left with about $1600 for everything else. How much would a loan payment be? If it is at least $1,000 - then you have $600 for food and utilities and clothes and transportation and entertainment.

    My basic conclusion on these rough numbers is that $45,000 for a single person is livable either with a small loan payment or a low rent- which is almost impossible to find.

    Anyway the main point of the article is that a way that people used to supplement their earnings and to defend criminal cases, is going to disappear. This is a way to cut jobs without calling it a workforce reduction.

  14. I volunteered this past summer at Legal Aid in Westchester County, NY. Anyone who lives in NY will know that Westchester County is the second most expensive county to live in the State of New York (New York County being the most expensive). Basically, one needs at least an annual salary of $50,000 per year just to get by with rent or owning a home in Westchester.

    A typical attorney makes only $40,000 per year, with paralegals earning far less at $20,000 per year at Legal Aid. As others have posted, throw in living expenses, student loan payments, and taxes (in Westchester County, you are taxed four times just to live there) $40,000 is not really great pay, especially for a professional.

    1:31 brings up some excellent points regarding hiring process with Legal Aid, and I found this to also be the case with other non-profit, pro-bono legal services. All of the attorneys who worked at Legal Aid were either African American or Hispanic. Only the senior counsel were White (basically all of senior counsel were Jewish Baby Boomers). In taking a risk in getting flammed, from my observation, Legal Aid basically does not really aim in getting the best and the brightest on its staff. It's all about getting people who are 1) willing to accept very low pay, and 2) having a staff that stereotypically, clients will feel comfortable in working with. I’m not saying that the attorneys I worked with were terrible—they were not. However not hiring qualified White candidates is a form of discrimination, but it is happening.

    I would also like to point out that Legal Aid has also taken a real beating in this economy, at least at the Legal Aid office where I volunteered at. A large chunk of the budget used to come from State and County funding. Due to budget issues in Westchester County, the new County Executive slashed the County budget and NY State decreased its funding this year as well. Counsel and staff were basically denied raises for the third year in a row. Despite the increase of cases received, Legal Aid was not in the financial position to hire more attorneys and support that it needed. I’m pretty sure this is the same for New York City.

    I can't really see anything good coming out of Bloomberg's decision either. Unless Bloomberg hires more counsel and legal staff, we are looking at attorneys who will be over-worked and under paid. This decision is certainly not good for the defendants who need representation.

  15. Second the commenter above me. Angel, I love you, but truth be told I'd rather legal aid get the money and maybe hire an additional class of 20 attorneys then let it trickle down to sleazy solos who don't hire anybody

  16. sleazy solos who don't hire anyone? That is an offensive remark. It is extremely difficult to make a living for these solos, and keep themselves from being charity cases. You want them to hire someone they can't afford? Why do you have to run them down because they don't hire anyone? That is a prejudiced remark. What makes them sleazy? Why are they any more sleazy than anyone else trying to make a living? I don't get it. Have you ever tried solo practice? I have a friend who worked for the government, went solo, and then went back to the government. He told me he didn't make a single dollar in a year as a solo. It's very hard to support yourself. Why do you have to run them down with offensive remarks on top of that?

  17. I gotta disagree here with you on this one. If it is done properly, it will save the city a shitload of money, when it is in a huge budget deficit. This is the kind of thing government needs to do: save money.

    Also, those court appointed guys have no incentive to keep a case going, as you said their hours are slashed, and I believe they get paid more for a plea then they do for a trial (per hour) correct me if I'm wrong...

    In any event, if clients now get even less representation that will simply reflect the reality of the situation. I remember seeing a documentary on a prison in Lima, where they said there were only 65 public defenders for the city. As a poor country (we are becoming one) we are starting to reflect this actual reality in the way we live and the services the indigent receive. No more money in the coffers to pay these guys 100k for representing the indigent. I know its harsh, but its reality.

  18. 8:06, anyone who relies entirely on court appointed work is a charity case. These attorneys, the most experienced ones, have had decades to get it together and to establish a solo practice. Though I sympathize to some extent with having a livelihood taken away or reduced, the alternative is what? A bunch of old solos keep getting money, younger attorneys are stymied by hiring freezes and a court system which exercises appointments in favored of the experienced and more connected who have no interest in mentoring the new lawyers on the block.

    If the status quo is what it's gonna be, I say prepare for generational war and may the pigeons gorge themselves on the bones of starved 18b lawyers

  19. The people who think one can live normally on $45k a year in NYC are obviously unfamiliar with the cost of living there.

    But even if one could luxuriate in NYC on $45k a year, even after student loan payments that include law school, is that a good return on investment?

    What do NYC ***GARBAGE COLLECTORS*** make?


    In Mercer's 2009 survey, New York City was the eighth-most expensive city in the world. With an annual average earning of $47,080, refuse collectors in New York City may still have a hard time making ends meet, especially those with families.

    Read more: How Much Does a Garbage Man Make? |

    Yes, lawyers with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt should be fucking ecstatic to make less than garbage collectors, who are recognized as struggling on their salary. The only contact that garbage collectors have with a $$$$ law degree is to pick it off the curb and take it to the dump.

  20. The court appointed lawyer issue is interesting. The Bar and Chief Judge will try to create some limitations to entry, but judges will still appoint without regard to those limitations. I speak from experience.

    In the long-run, the new conflict counsel fad is bogus. Conflicts still arise and a court appointed lawyer will be required.

    If you do not like criminal law, check out your local legal aid group. They generally have severe shortages and are more than willing to pass along cases that have statutory attorney's fees.

  21. Keep in mind there are personal issues to assisting armed robbers, killers, and rapists. It's easy to rationalize and say they all deserve a fair trial - until you meet one of them.

  22. Poverty levels are related to family size. For a single person under age 65 the poverty level is around $15,000. Believe me that's very difficult to live on. That's what my unemployment benefits totaled.

    I understand your problem Angela. When I worked as a paralegal, people asked if I was going to go to law school. I said no, because I wasn't sure I wanted to work as a lawyer and go into that kind of debt. I hope things work out for you.

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  24. Typical Bloomberg. The ONLY thing this weasel knows how to do is make money--and he is constantly making it off the backs of New Yorkers. Who re-elected this guy anyway??

  25. I actually work in indigent defense in NYC. Quite frankly, legal aid lawyers on average are high quality in the field bc not only are stsff selected from best of regional schools but the institutional training and atty supervision is the best. As far as career development its a good bet bc firms know la attys have hands on training. I have found la staff to be diverse in initial hiring and in long term employee retention. As far as the statements about minority hiring I don't think posters who think the hiring is disproportionate have any real insight into the industry. As an aside I would note that disproportionately minorities are the indigent population and in many ways the criminal and family ct is a cottage industry that unjustly punishes minorities in order to support a system of jobs for the largely nonminority /caucasian workers who man the cts, prisons and are service providers. I would hazard that hiring minority attys to defend these people gives at least the appearance of fairness. Otherwise in criminal ct for instance in most circumstances the defendant would always be black or brown while the police officer who arrestef him, the judge, prosecutor and his atty were white.



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