Some people go to law school not in the hope of making buckets of cash, but to bring justice to their communities. With long hours and low pay, being a government attorney is a noble pursuit. The catch is that some of these poor souls didn’t know just how poor they’d actually be.
To that end, they certainly didn’t expect that they’d be paid a lower salary than the courthouse custodian, and they had no clue that they’d be members of the working poor.
Which state is allowing entry-level government attorneys to live in squalor?
It’s none other than Massachusetts, where government lawyers are so “grossly underpaid” that their livelihoods are “crippl[ing] them financially.” How bad is it? Here’s a relevant quote from a study performed by the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Commission on Criminal Justice Attorney Compensation:
Sadly, the lowest paid person in a Massachusetts courtroom is a newly minted assistant district attorney. Working up from the bottom, the next lowest paid employee in the courthouse is the custodian. And the third lowest paid person in the courtroom is the public defender.
Here’s a visual representation of how screwed ADAs and public defenders are in Massachusetts:
Court reporters are living high on the hog while the prosecutors whose arguments they’re typing up are probably off their game because they haven’t been able to afford a meal in a few days.
The Massachusetts Bar’s Commission on Criminal Justice Attorney Compensation acknowledges that even if these people aren’t in it for the money, “[t]hey do expect, and reasonably so, that their chosen career would compensate them sufficiently, such that they could pay off college and law school loans, afford to live away from their parents’ homes, get married, buy a house, and raise a family.” We’d go so far as to argue that all newly minted lawyers expect such luxuries, but sadly, there are few jobs that will allow the heavily indebted to lead normal lives, save for Biglaw, where entry-level attorneys are paid $160,000.
Here are two real-life horror stories to open your eyes a bit more on this issue. This is so sad:
- “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 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.”
- “I attended Loyola University in Chicago. My 2013 adjusted gross income was $41,254. When I last checked on Monday, I owe $177,493.57 in student loans. I will give you a little breakdown of two weeks in my life. February 28th I was paid about $1,400. I had expenses that pay period, including rent, totaling $1,215. That leaves a little under $200. Then I was paid March 13, $1,371. That pay period I had expenses totaling $1,264. That’s a little more than $100 left.”
The Mass Bar Association is recommending that starting salaries for these positions be raised to $55,000. If that doesn’t happen, remember that you could have a more viable career sweeping courthouse floors.
Doing Right By Those Who Labor for Justice [Massachusetts Bar Association]
Criminal justice lawyers are becoming ‘working poor,’ study says [Boston Globe]
Courthouse custodians make more money than new prosecutors in this state [ABA Journal]