Monday, November 2, 2009

Lawyers Behaving Badly; The ISBA is Nowhere in Sight as Young Attorneys Face Financial Difficulties

Over the weekend came a story of state representative and attorney Ed Delaney allegedly being attacked by another attorney, Augustus J. Mendenhall. Mendenhall had been sworn in during the the Fall of 2008 and apparently had never worked as an attorney. According to one television news report he was homeless living in Miami. Mendenhall is being held on several charges including attempted murder.

What passed under the radar for most local folks is the story of Cllifton Bruce Davidson, Jr., police officer and Indiana attorney. Davidson was sworn in as an attorney in 2001. He was reportedly miserable with the practice of law and not making money. In November of 2003, he robbed his first bank in the suburb of Cincinnati. He would go on to rob 38 more banks and end up on the FBI"s most wanted list. In 2004, he walked away from the legal profession. He was disbarred in August of 2004 for taking and retaining clients retainers without having done any work. Bankruptcy and divorce followed. In January of 2006, Davidson was caught in Phoenix. He pled guilty to three counts of aggravated bank robbery, 21 counts of bank robbery and one count of brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence. He was was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison.

These are admittedly extreme cases involving people undoubtedly having character flaws to say the least. But they may well be character flaws further irritated by the financial difficulties many newer attorneys find themselves in.

On April 22, 2009, I posted an article: Lies, Damn Lies and Law School Employment Statistics; The Sordid Truth Behind the Numbers. In the post, I noted how law schools intentionally lie to prospective clients about job prospects and salaries. I pointed out the $75,000 Indianapolis starting attorney salary in the 2007 employment report. Well, the 2008 employment report is out and the starting salary for Indianapolis attorneys has suddenly dropped by $5,000 to $70,000. The 2008 report shows 94% employment within 9 months of graduating law school. What those numbers fail to consider is that many of those employed are still working non-law jobs they had before graduating from law school. Nonetheless, the law schools claim credit for that employment.

Ask attorneys out there practicing whether $70,000 is a realistic starting salary for a new Indianapolis. The answer will be laughter.

A few years ago, I asked IU Law School of Indianapolis for the surveys that supposedly supported their employment numbers provided on their website. They refused to provide them, claiming privacy concerns. Of course, IU could have redacted certain personal information, but didn't do that. During the course of discussions regarding release of the information, I was told that the school sometimes "estimates" salaries when former students don't return the surveys. Not exactly good methodology. Law schools have every incentive to phony up employment numbers. In addition to wanting people to continue going to law school, many rankings are based at least partly on employment numbers. The employment numbers are not audited for accuracy by anyone, so what is to stop a law school from "estimating" high when it comes to those salaries and employment figures? Absolutely none.

As a Republican, I reflexively oppose an artificial limit on those entering the legal profession. However, that does not excuse the out-and-out fraud perpetuated by law schools to encourage people to enter law school using phony employment figures. Many of these students take on a mountain of debt, sometimes in the six figures, only to find that if they can get a job, or if they do, it only pays $35,000 a year with little if any benefits. Of course, then they have the added bonus of finding out that their law degree has just disqualified them from being considered for many non-law jobs.

The sad fact is that for years the supply of attorneys has far exceeded the demand for lawyers. For years this has created downward pressure on associate salaries. Partners simply don't have to pay associates much at all - if the associate doesn't like the low salary at the firm, there is someone else there who would be thrilled to have the job.

Missing in action in all of this is the Indiana State Bar Association. The ISBA is supposed to look out for the interests of attorneys. The ISBA should be demanding honest employment numbers from the law schools and educating prospective lawyers about the low salaries and unemployment many of them will face. The ISBA doesn't do that, however. The ISBA will fight for the elites within the legal profession, including higher salaries for judges, but when it comes to the interests of lowly associates who bear the burden of low salaries, unemployment and huge law school debt, the ISBA is nowhere in sight.

1 comment:

timb said...

God bless you. I'm lucky to be at a firm where, if you succeed, you are rewarded with decent pay, but the number of people from my law school class (this past May's) who don't have jobs is amazing.

Seems to me, the Bar exam could be tougher (not that it wasn't hard) and less than 80% of first time applicants could fail. Instead, they just added 500+ attorneys to the rolls in a recession!

Since I am a liberal, I propose a millionaire surtax to pay for a direct cash subsidy to all new lawyers....

yeah, that last part was a joke. only rich people get those kinds of payments.