Two young lawyers’ complaints that they’re not earning enough as Massachusetts public prosecutors do not evoke a lot of sympathy from me:
I graduated from Boston College Law School in 2007. After six and a half years as a public defender, my salary is roughly $53,600 a year. I, like my colleagues, realize many people in Massachusetts are paid less than public defenders. Every single day I work with poor people who don’t have a dime to their name. And I know many people struggle, stay in the middle class, with less than my salary. But $53,600 a year is far too low of a salary to allow me to stay with CPCS. I have over $120,000 in student loans. I have a 2003 Toyota Corolla with 128,000 miles on it. I live in a modest apartment that I share, perhaps tellingly, with another public defender from my office just to make the ends meet. I had a part-time job for five years as a public defender selling wine and liquor at a wine shop until about a year ago when I really had to leave because my social life was nonexistent and I really needed extra time to work on my cases. I live no better than I did when I was a first-year law student at BC. In fact, I probably live less well. I have no savings. I can’t save anything for retirement, and there is no end in sight.
A dozen or more years ago I ran into a classmate in, of all places, a grocery store in San Diego. At that point he was working as a public prosecutor for the county and complained that he wasn’t being paid enough and that was during an historic boom. The reality is that public prosecutors have never been well-paid.
It’s a simple case of supply and demand. Let’s go back to the case of Massachusetts. Massachusetts has the second highest ratio of lawyers to population of any state in the Union (only New York has more).
Add to that the reality that unemployment of newly graduated lawyers is at historic levels.
Finally, incomes among lawyers occur in a bimodal distribution, i.e. they’re not statistically normal. Notions like “average” or “median” don’t mean much when it comes to lawyers. A bimodal distribution has two humps like a camel rather than the familiar normal distribution. Why is that? Lawyers who work for big law firms make big wages. They’re also graduates of a handful of law schools. Lawyers who don’t work for big law firms earn considerably less and lawyers who work for the government even less than that. And the big law firms aren’t hiring the armies of associates they used to, mostly through a combination of automation and offshoring.
The grads of top law schools now compete with grads of lesser law schools who in turn are pushed out of jobs in law altogether.