[Ed's note: Eric R. Jarosz sent me this message in response to a post entitled Indigent defense in Massachusetts.]
[There is a case being litigated regarding the issues we're discussing.] Here is the link to that case . I would like to note that prior to the legislature’s increase in pay, CPCS set a cap of 1800 hour per year that an individual attorney could bill. With the hourly rate of thirty dollars per hour, the maximum compensation that a full time District Court attorney could yield is fifty four thousand dollars. ($ 54,000.00). If this was a salary, it might not appear to be a bad starting point for a new attorney. However this maximum is in fact a contract wage.
From this a practitioner would have to deduct their tax liability, office expenses, health insurance, mandatory malpractice insurance and any other necessary expense. Some typical expenses for these requirements are as follows:
Rent/heat/phone 700.00/month 8400/year
Health 1000.00/month 12000/year
Total ded. 24,600.00
I would suggest there would be additional expenses as well, however, I wanted to try to keep this as simple and accurate as possible. As you can see, the original pay of fifty four thousand dollars is actually less than thirty thousand when the necessary deductions are included.
Now I ask you, where in the U.S. of A does a holder of a doctorate degree get paid less than thirty thousand dollars for full time non-military employment? When you start to investigate the reality of the current pay rate, you will see that there really are attorneys that are working full time, doing a bang up job, and facing bankruptcy and foreclosure proceedings.
Now that you know that the pay is abysmal, I would like to try to provide you with a little insight into the working environment. This is certainly not a cushy job where you can just sit and read the newspaper.
On a typical day in the Lynn District Court, an advocate will likely receive ten new appointments. This requires the review of ten police report, ten board of probation reports, ten interviews with new clients, additional interviews with concerned friends/family, and ten conferences with the DA etc. There will likely be questions of bail on about five appointments which will require five separate arguments before the sitting judge as to why your client should be released. It is not easy to keep up this pace and some attorneys simply can’t. The people that are our clients have been determined to be indigent, they typically are not college grads, are not likely gainfully employed, and do not likely have a lot of positive things going for them. Yet they are facing sometimes serious crimes and their only hope lies in their court appointed attorney.
Most of these people are not bad people, many have had one or two bad breaks in their life, or suffer from severe substance abuse, or are the product of a dysfunctional or otherwise abusive household. With the attorney shortage, many advocates are representing 50 to 100 clients at a time. On any given day of the week, an advocate is facing potentially life changing consequences with their appointed clients. With little exception, the advocates I work with in the Lynn area put their blood sweat and tears into their representation and I have witnessed its toll on the attorneys. I know of several attorneys that were pushed to their breaking point and had to give up the practice. Putting everything on the line for your client every day can lead to some serious personal consequences. I could go on with example after example of how difficult the work really is, but I am sure you are receiving other emails of this nature.
I just think you should know that for less than thirty grand a year, the state is getting one hell of a bargain. I have sometimes analogized the bar advocate as boxer in the book animal farm. The advocate is told to keep plowing the field, the grass will someday be greener. The current “crisis” described in Lavallee is the result of twenty years of this same banter. The advocates in Hampden County do not want to cause a crisis, they simply can not afford to work at the set pay rates. The crisis was caused by the legislators and other in charge of setting the pay rate. I would hope that you received at least one raise in twenty years? Well aside from the recent pay raise, the bar advocate has not.