Cicchini posted about how ridiculously difficult it still is for jobless lawyers who are forced to choose self-employment when they’re unable to find full-time paying law firm work. An advertisement he recently received for work at the pleasure of the Racine Circuit Court made his point.
Despite an improving economy, new lawyers face daunting challenges. Blame the continuing glut of lawyers as well as irreversible changes to 21st century client expectations impacting the legal profession’s cost, profit and pricing structures.
Preposterously penurious pay.
As for the advertisement Cicchini received, the County Circuit Court in Racine, Wisconsin is looking for an “advocate counsel” and the pay is an unbelievable $25,000 per year. Don’t expect expense reimbursement or job security. It’s terminable at-will.
The ad then goes on to state that “attorneys may be assigned any type of felony [including homicide], misdemeanor, juvenile, criminal traffic, and probate cases and any other action as the court orders . . . It is estimated that there will be about 70 – 80 assignments in 2015 per attorney.” Read the rest of Cicchini’s post here.
The quality of unfairness.
As an experienced criminal defense lawyer, Cicchini properly points out that this kind of caseload is “nearly impossible” for any lawyer — let alone a newbie hoping to do thorough, ethically unimpeachable legal work for clients.
Admittedly, there was more than enough in the court’s advertisement to annoy any lawyer — not the least being the overt professional discourtesy of lawyers trying to screw over other lawyers, i.e., those desperate enough to apply for such a demanding job at such penurious pay.
And who were the one’s being so discourteous? Cicchini speculates “this proposal was presumably authored with input from the Racine County judges themselves.”
But beyond exploiting economically hard-pressed young lawyers, there’s another even more disturbing consideration. What does this job say about exacerbating the continuing disparities of justice meted out to indigent defendants by overburdened, under-resourced public defenders? Studies have amply demonstrated that “public defenders do not have enough time to conduct thorough investigations, or meet with and provide quality representation for their clients – many of whom are low-income earners and people of color.” See, for instance, “System Overload: The Costs of Under-Resourcing Public Defense.”
But beyond the above-mentioned concerns, it was the potential ethical minefields created by the job that also got my dander up. As one commentator observed, “the deck is stacked” against solos as it is. Writing at “Ethical Hazards of Solo and Small Firm Practice,” Benjamin Cowgill axiomatically notes that nationwide, solos and small firms bear the brunt of most bar complaints. One reason, among many, arises from their chosen areas of practice, criminal defense being one of the riskier.
So what does this lousy job in Racine with its heavy caseload at rock-bottom pay say about how far ethical concerns are discounted in Cheesehead Land?
Just a few years ago the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel ran an excellent comprehensive investigative report about the sorry state of Wisconsin’s attorney discipline system. The newspaper reviewed almost 24,000 Wisconsin lawyers against state and federal court records and “found that lawyers who are convicted of crimes are then subjected to a slow-moving disciplinary system that operates largely behind closed doors.” It went on to underscore the patently obvious that “Wisconsin appears to be comparatively lenient in dealing with lawbreaking lawyers.
“Unlike many other states, where the licenses of lawyers convicted of serious crimes such as fraud are immediately suspended to give regulators time to determine the proper sanction, Wisconsin sometimes allows criminals to keep their law licenses even while they are behind bars.”
Hilariously hubristic hypocrisy.
So front and center comes this challenging low-paying job in Racine that just reeks of potential ethical hazard for the unwary and overburdened.
And yet, maybe I’m overstating the hazard? After all, it appears not much has changed since 2011, at least when it comes to lawyer discipline in Wisconsin. Indeed, earlier this summer there was a lawyer discipline case reported by “The Legal Profession Blog” ironically highlighting “Calls to Reform Wisconsin Attorney Discipline” made by none other than Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamsom and Justice David Prosser. Given the facts of that case, both expressed agreement on the need to study and reform the Wisconsin attorney discipline system.
But after all the he-said/she-said, no criminal charges were ever filed although Justice Prosser did get charged with ethics violations. However, lo and behold and consistent with how things apparently roll in Wisconsin, multiple recusals led to no quorum, which meant no determination of discipline could be made against Justice Prosser. So, the charges were dropped. Later the same year, he eked out a 7,006 reelection win over Joanne Kloppenburg.
And so he sits on the high bench in 2014 opining along with his chief justice who he previously disrespected about how Wisconsin’s attorney discipline system needs reform.
Photo Credits: Talking with Hands, Wikimedia Commons; Half the pay, twice the work by Truthout.org at Flickr via Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License; Defense Counsel by Matt Freedman at Flickr, Attribution; bad jpg file in encrypted folder by Mike at Flickr via Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.