Florida’s Legal Landscape

A recent article in the Tampa Bay Times examines the current state of Florida’s legal landscape as well as the projected future.  Below is an excerpt from the article; to view the entire text, please click the following link: http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/floridas-swollen-ranks-of-lawyers-scrap-for-piece-of-a-shrinking-legal-pie/2190047

Ask Jason Fraser how many jobs he applied for after graduating from law school last year and this is what he says:

“Maybe 10 or 20 when it was someplace I wanted to work. Maybe 50 when I started getting desperate.”

After searching from Ocala to Miami, Fraser finally landed a public defender’s post in Pasco County in June. But his months of job-hunting raises another question, one that nags at many in the legal profession:

Does Florida have too many lawyers?

Since 2000, the number of licensed attorneys has swollen from 60,900 to 96,511. In the same period, five new law schools have opened, cranking out even more lawyers to join those bemoaning the diminished rewards of their chosen career.

“Now it seems you work harder to make half of what you did in 1998,” said Angela Wright, a Tampa criminal defense lawyer. “The economy is a reason but also the fact there are a whole lot more attorneys.”

Almost half of the lawyers who responded to a Florida Bar survey last year cited “too many attorneys” as the most serious problem facing the legal profession today. That exceeded “difficult economic times” and “poor public perception,” which many blamed in part on relentless TV advertising, such as that by big personal injury firms.

The same survey found that 25 percent of lawyers in private practice had “adjusted” their fees. Half said they didn’t expect things to get better any time soon.

Of course, lower legal fees are good news for those needing legal services. And some big corporate law firms are hiring again.

The glut of lawyers may be easing, too.

Eight of Florida’s 12 law schools saw a drop in enrollment last year. And faced with law school bills that can top $120,000, many people might be rethinking a profession with a median starting salary in Florida of only about $45,000.

Says LeRoy Pernell, dean of Florida A&M University’s law school:

“The old ways of going to the top 10 cities and the top 10 law firms — they’re not going to do it.”