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How We See Ourselves

by Lori W. Nelson

As many of you know, in December, 2011, the Utah State Bar had Dan Jones & Associates conduct a survey of Bar members on several issues. Over fifty-two percent of the membership responded, making the survey statistically very representative. One of the categories included questions on Courts, Professionalism & Civility, Job Satisfaction, Public Image, Pro Bono, and Diversity.

The survey results of the questions in this category were unexpected. Contrary to anecdotal information, a huge majority of Bar members are satisfied with the Utah State courts and staff. The courts have been doing a great job being more responsive and trying to ensure that the needs of the public are being met in an efficient way. These efforts are reflected in the survey results.

Other results were not as unexpected. For instance, on Professionalism and Civility, it was apparent from the survey results that our perception of civility is not improving. Twenty-three percent of us believe civility is declining while only nine percent believe it is improving. Most of us, however, are satisfied with the efforts that are being made to improve civility.

Because of this prevailing view of civility, there will be a civility panel at the Fall Forum, November 9, 2012. The American Board of Trial Advocates put together the materials and panel for the presentation. The publication put out by ABOTA, Civility Matters, has several beneficial articles regarding civility and professionalism.

In the publication, William B. Smith, from Abramson Smith Waldsmith, LLP, sets out three primary reasons why, as attorneys, we should be civil: (1) Incivility hurts our clients by driving up costs and leading to unnecessary litigation, (2) Incivility hurts attorneys by destroying individual reputations, and (3) Incivility hurts the profession by increasing the negative perception of lawyers in the eyes of the public.

Along with increasing civility, the Bar wants to improve the public image of lawyers by publicizing the good works attorneys do. Many of you have received requests for information regarding what lawyers are doing to serve their communities outside of their legal work. If we are able to get this information out to the public we can begin to turn the tide of negative opinion. Please provide your stories, or the stories of those you work with, so we can help the public learn of the generous volunteer work done by lawyers.

Aside from civility, the Bar’s survey had interesting results on how lawyers view themselves and on how we believe the public views us. Forty-eight percent of us believe the public views us negatively. Sixty-four percent of us believe the public thinks we manipulate the legal system. Seventy-two percent of us believe the public thinks we charge too much. Forty percent of us think that the public believes that lawyer advertising is misleading and the same percentage feel that the public thinks we put our interests ahead of theirs.

These results are especially interesting because only attorneys were surveyed, not the public. The results reflect what we believe the public thinks, and therefore reflects in some part what we think about ourselves. This negative view is consistent with the survey results which found that one-third of Utah lawyers are dissatisfied with their careers overall, especially in the areas of compensation and work-life balance.

A separate series of survey questions dealt with Economic Issues and Professional Liability Insurance. The survey there also had results that were unexpected. Forty-seven percent of our lawyers make less than $100,000 per year. Seventy-two percent make less than $150,000. Starting salaries are less than $60,000 for twenty-three percent of the sixty-nine percent reporting. The salary ranges are significantly less than we believe the public thinks we make.

Many of us do not have health insurance and/or pay at least a portion of the health insurance premium directly. One-fifth of our members have no professional liability insurance, citing cost as the principal factor.

Hourly billing remains prominent, although over one-third of attorneys in private practice report that clients are requesting or demanding alternative billing arrangements. The survey results and comments indicate that alternative billing arrangements will have to become much more common as market forces are requiring greater responsiveness to client’s demands. The Utah Supreme Court just issued an opinion, In the Matter of the Discipline of Nathan. N. Jardine, 2012 UT 67, which discusses the propriety of flat fee billing and non-refundable retainers. Alternative billing methods will become more of an issue, which we will have to address as many of us will be asked to provide this type of service in the coming months and years.

Of great concern from the survey were the results regarding pro bono service. Thirty percent of Utah lawyers do no pro bono work at all. Forty percent do between one and five hours a month. Only thirty percent say they do more than six hours of pro bono work per month. The survey indicated that eighty-four percent were constrained from doing pro bono by lack of money, time, and/or employer requirements. Added to these statistics is the fact that only one-third of us make financial contributions to provide legal aid for the poor. Given the great need for assistance, especially in this economy, more of us should be doing more. As retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor aptly stated:

Certainly, life as a lawyer is a bit more complex today than it was a century ago. The ever-increasing pressures of the legal marketplace, the need to bill hours, to market to clients, and to attend to the bottom line, have made fulfilling the responsibilities of community service quite difficult. But public service marks the difference between a business and a profession. While a business can afford to focus solely on profits, a profession cannot. It must devote itself first to the community it is responsible to serve. I can imagine no greater duty than fulfilling this obligation. And I can imagine no greater pleasure.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 78 Or. L. Rev. 385, 391 (1999).

Asking for pro bono work seems like one more thing we have to do, but the service we render is invaluable to those who need our help. The service we do in other ways is also noteworthy. We had 174 lawyers teaching in 193 classrooms on Constitution Day, instructing high school and middle school kids about our system of government. It was very successful and we anticipate making it an annual event. We also want to have lawyers in classrooms throughout the year for other schools and teachers whose schedules did not work on Constitution Day. Thanks to all of you who participated.

The profession asks a lot of you and the Bar Commission is grateful for your service. Because of its awareness of all you do, we want to highlight the existing member benefits. Right now you can access the information by visiting www.utahbar.org and clicking on Benefits Vendor Directory on the lower right hand side of the page www.utahbar.org/members/member_benefits.html (this will get better with the roll-out of the new website this fall). There you will see the benefits that are available, including AAA membership, Budget and Hertz rental car discounts, T-Mobile pricing plans, various insurance options, law practice management options, litigation support, Jazz ticket and clothing discounts, and technology options. We are going to work in the next year to increase and improve our member benefits.

Last, on the Bar’s web page you will find more information about the coming summer convention to be held in Snowmass/Aspen. Room rates at the convention hotel, recently purchased and newly remodeled by Westin, start at $159. In the condominium complexes on the mountain, a two bedroom premier is $225, and a two bedroom valley view is $255. Studio condominiums start at $99. You can find the entire list of lodging options at www.utahbar.org/cle/summerconvention/snowmasslodging.html.

Justice Scalia will be presenting the Saturday keynote and Dr. William Meinecke, of the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., will present on Friday. He will speak on the failure of the legal system in Nazi Germany. His comments encompass the role of judges in allowing Nazi Germany to succeed and how Hitler “used democracy to destroy democracy.” His comments will be relevant to all of us as we continue to try to enforce the rule of law in our state and country.

The food is great in Snowmass/Aspen, and the activities are varied and family oriented. The fishing is top-notch, the golf is amazing and the river rafting is terrific. There is something for everyone. Aside from the great pricing for accommodations, the large range of activities is another reason this location was chosen for next summer’s convention.

We hope to see you all at the convention and at the Fall Forum in November.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 12, 2012 8:07 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Where Many Litigators Still Fear to Tread: Adapting to Mediation.

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