Saturday, January 5, 2013

Lawyer salaries: going, going . . . gone

A couple of years ago, some members of the Wisconsin Bar were putting up a stink about the low hourly wage paid to appointed attorneys who represent indigent citizens accused of crimes.  I wrote about it on the MU Faculty Blog, and made the prediction that the state government would not raise this pay rate, which has been unchanged for decades.  And not only was that prediction correct—I’m not taking credit for reading the future; the prediction was easy and obvious—but since that time, lawyer wages have fallen even further.  Many employers, including the government, are now advertising lawyer jobs where the salary is—you guessed it—zero.

That’s right, zero.   Lawyers want to hire lawyers as interns, but for no pay.  The Justice Dept. wants to hire lawyers, but for no pay.  And this judge wants to hire a lawyer, but for no pay.  Now, there are pluses and minuses to this gig, if you're lucky enough to land it.  The good news is that you don’t have to say that you work for free.  Instead, you can say that you work in a “gratuitous service appointment.”  (And I thought business schools were the kings of the buzzwords.)  But, there is a downside.  If you want to work for this judge, you have to “morally commit for one year.”  That is, don't jump ship after only a few months if a paying job happens to come along.

But after thinking about it, that seems reasonable.  Whoever lands this “gratuitous service appointment” is getting a fabulous opportunity to work for a learned judge, so the one year commitment is a small price to pay.  After all, nothing is free.

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