My Shingle

How Do Your Rates – and Income – Stack Up?

by Carolyn Elefant on December 6, 2004 · 1 comment

in Marketing & Making Money, Setting and Collecting Fees, What Solos Earn

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Solo practioners in Central New York make about $50,000 a year, making them on average the lowest paid lawyers in the state, followed by solos in Buffalo who, in second place, earn $67,000.  These statistics are included in this article in the Central New York Business Journal (12/5/04) which reports on the findings of the New York State Bar Association’s “The 2004 Desktop Reference on the Economics of Law Practice in New York State.”

The article offers other tidbits from the report, such as these:

For Central New York attorneys who are partners in practices with more than one lawyer, the news on salaries is better. For equity partners in firms with two to nine partners, the median pay was $112,500 in Syracuse, according to the state-bar-association survey. That’s higher than salaries found in Rochester (median pay of $105,000), in Westchester County ($100,000), and outside the state’s major metropolitan areas ($110,000). But Buffalo ($122,500), Albany ($160,000), Long Island ($150,000), and New York City ($175,000) outpaced Syracuse for average salaries for lawyers at these types of firms.

At firms with 10 or more partners, Syracuse-area median pay for equity partners ($175,434) topped pay in the Rochester area ($150,000) and pay outside the state’s major metropolitan areas ($148,689). But Syracuse can’t hold a candle to pay for equity partners in firms with more than 10 partners in Buffalo and Albany (both $200,000), Westchester County ($235,000), Long Island ($250,000), and New York City ($300,000).

The survey also found that Central New York attorneys who are equity partners in their firms are charging less per hour, on average, than attorneys anywhere else in New York State. While the average attorney in New York State charges $236 an hour, Syracuse-area attorneys charge an average of $165. The highest rates are found in New York City ($268 an hour). John P. Langan, managing partner at Hiscock & Barclay, LLP in Syracuse, says the report’s findings on pay differentials for attorneys at large firms “does not jibe” with his experience. In particular, Langan says that Rochester provides attorneys with “a good, solid client base” and the potential for high pay.

“My take is Albany is the most steady, least volatile up or down,” Langan says. “Rochester is probably the one that is doing the best and has the best potential.”

The survey was undertaken in response to requests from members of the bar for additional information about legal practice in New York.  Wonder whether the survey will anything to dispel the public’s image of lawyers as rich and greedy (at least the first part, anyway).

  • http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/ethicalesq David Giacalone

    Carolyn, Since I live in the central part of upstate New York, the modest income figures for solo lawyers here come as no surprise to me. [And they explain why law clerk jobs with state court judges are seen as plum, career positions, with great benefits.]
    This income reality is, in fact, another major reason for my lack of sympathy for the Bar Advocates located only a few miles away on the other side of the Massachusetts border, who are seeking to coerce higher fees through illegal joint boycotts. [See, e.g., mass, lawyers still looking out for #1]
    Around here, most solos have few other employment options (if any) and they primarily take assigned cases because they need the work — they are not sustaining significant opportunity costs due to giving up other work. It is hard to imagine that the economics are much different in parts of Massachusetts outside of Metro Boston.
    In this situation, comparisons of assigned counsel fees to some supposed, much-higher “market rate” is inapt. Assigned counsel work helps supplement solo income, allowing lawyers who might not be able to continue practicing to still hang out a shingle.
    By the way, low incomes may prove that the lawyers are not rich, but they don’t necessarily disprove their being greedy — don’t confuse necessity with virtue.

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