Court appointed work is rarely lucrative, but lawyers in Franklin County, Maine were so fed up with the ridiculously low rate in state cases that they agreed to do something about it: go on strike by refusing to take sexual assault cases until the rate was raised from $50 an hour to $70 or more.
Unfortunately, the strike failed for two predictable reasons: the court found attorneys willing to undercut their fellow members of the bar and there weren't that many cases to begin with -- the Morning Sentinel found only two.
How Low is Too Low?
Fifty big ones an hour -- is that too low for court appointed work? According to the Sentinel, that rate has remained the same for the past fifteen years. Anyone would be raging if they didn't get a pay raise in over a decade.
Plus, the "striking" attorneys point to the $150 an hour rate in federal cases, and the $333 an hour paid to state-appointed attorneys defending the Centers for Disease Control in a whistleblower action, as context for their complaints.
The last time we discussed hourly rates, we thought $100 an hour was a barely sustainable rate that would require an extremely lean and efficient law office to stay out of the red. But $50? Even assuming that the cost of living in Maine is significantly lower than the San Francisco/Bay Area (a safe assumption), that seems impossibly low.
Not impossible for everyone, it seems, as the court did find attorneys to take the cases. We'd hate to be them, however, at the next bar event.
The story has a happy ending for the Maine criminal defense bar: raises are on the way. Even before the strike, the rate was set to go up to $55 an hour, a modest raise that doesn't even catch up to inflation over the last fifteen years.
But there's more good news, reports the Sentinel: local officials are set to meet to discuss a proposal that would raise the rate to $70 next year, and $75 the year after that. It's still half the going rate for federal cases, but it's not bad considering the attorneys' lack of leverage demonstrated in the failed strike.
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