Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What Concerns Lawyers Today?

The Florida Bar conducted a survey in 2013. The response rate was 30%, which is significant in these types of surveys. 

They asked attorneys questions that are repeated in each of their surveys, the last one being two years ago (2011). Some of the responses provide a look into the perceptions of attorneys regarding the legal profession in Florida. 

To the question "What do you believe are the three most serious problems faced by the legal profession today?" 49% of the respondents in 2013 said "too many attorneys." When that question was asked in 2011, only 33 % of the lawyers chose that response. The number two response in 2013 was "difficult economic times" at 31% (down from 32% in 2011) followed by "poor public perception at 26% (up from 23% in 2011). The remainder of the list (with 2011 comparison in parenthesis) was: affordability of legal services 24% (21%); lack of ethics/professionalism 23% (32%); court overload 21% (28%); lawyer advertising 21% (21%); frivolous lawsuits 19% (15%); lack of appropriate judicial system funding 19% (26%); Quality of the judiciary 16% (16%) over-emphasis on billable hours 13% (11%); threat to judicial independence 13% (16%); client expectations 11% (11%); access to the Courts 9% (9%); quality of beginning attorneys 7% (n/a); other 5% (5%). 

The surveyed attorneys were also asked to opine on the issues that will have the greatest impact on the legal profession in the next five years. The leading answer was "oversaturation of attorneys" with 39%, compared to 23% in 2011. Technology came in a distant second at 14%, compared to 18% in 2011, and a much more significant 36% in 2009. The remainder of the responses to this question (with 2011 percentages in parentheses) were: access/affordability of legal resources 10% (7%); competition from non-attorneys 9% (7%) lack of appropriate judicial system funding 8% (15%); the economy 6% (14%); public perception 5% (4%); threat to judicial independence 5% (7%) tort reform 3% (4%); and other 1% (1%). 

The anxiety of technology's invasion of the profession is moderating, while the anxiety of increasing competition among attorneys is significant and rising.

Asked to identify the three most significant personal challenges or concerns, 34% of attorneys selected "balancing family and work" compared to 35% in 2011. Second was "high stress" at 30%, down from 31% in 2011. Time management was third on the list at 22%, unchanged from 2011. The remainder of the list of personal challenges (with 2011 percentages in parentheses) were: net revenue 21% (23%);  client expectations 19% (15%); keeping up with new technology 19% (19); lack of business 18% (19%); retirement planning 16% (13);  billable hours 15% (15%);  lack of available employment opportunities 14% (13);  interaction with other attorneys 13% (10%);  keeping up with new developments in law 13% (17%);  lack of ethics/professionalism 13% (21%);  frivolous lawsuits 7% (6%);  interaction with the judiciary 7% (6%); Other 7% (7%).

Revenue is a personal challenge. The time we spend working is the most significant personal concern. Those early morning and late evening depositions, missed soccer games, and working through the weekend are taking their toll.

The respondents overwhelmingly responded, 85%, that lawyer advertising negatively affects the public's view of lawyers and the profession, while 4% felt that advertising positively affects their view. this response has been reasonable consistent over the course of surveys in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011.  Even among attorneys whose own firm participates in advertisement, 76% believed that advertising negatively affects the public's view of lawyers.

The Bar is in the midst of more litigation about advertising right now. The majority of attorneys are concerned about the effects of it, but the ability of the state to restrict it will be measured against the Constitution's protections. The outcome will be interesting. 

Asked which forms of advertising most negatively affect the public's view, the top answer was television at 63%. billboards were a distant second at 17%, and mobile ads on buses or taxis came in third at 5%. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said that current regulations on lawyer advertising in Florida were "too liberal."  Despite the feelings about advertising, the percentage of firms that engage in advertising has increased from 34% in 2005 to 41% in 2013. 

In all, the survey held few surprises. I hear many of the same concerns when I meet lawyers around the state. They voice similar concerns about their volume of business, their rising expenses, their investment in technology (and the training that it entails), and their uncertainty about the future of the profession. 

So, knowing what concerns attorneys, what do we do now?

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