Based on statistics where sources are not quoted, even generally, Mr. Coleman states that 12 percent or less of the low-income population has access to the courts ("Take One Case (And I Know You'll Be Back for More)," Nov. 2014 President's Page). He also states that "this is clearly a problem society must solve" and calls on Florida lawyers to take cases for free. In my humble opinion, this is a problem for the legislature and our elected officials to solve, that is, if the voters of Florida agree.
For 23 years, I have been a lawyer, and this is my 19th year as a solo practitioner handling criminal and family law cases. Most of my clients have a household income of less than $50,000 and almost everyone is on a payment plan for legal services with some retainers starting as low as $500. On almost every single case, getting paid in full for the agreed amount is more difficult than the actual legal work and court appearances. There were five law schools when I graduated in 1992 and today Florida has 11 law schools. There is so much competition out there that clients are shopping around for a lawyer the way they would for a flat screen television. Prices are more competitive than ever.
Many of my cases have involuntary pro bono aspects to them. A client will not arrive with the final payment when the case is set for a plea. Monthly payments are not for the full amount or are late or missed entirely. One client just called me today and stated that it's the end of the month and he is behind on the rest of his bills and needs to catch up before resuming his payment plan. He will "try and get with me next week." Many cases go with partial fees uncollected.
While I sincerely sympathize with their economic plight, there is a business aspect to legal representation. My office must meet payroll and pay rent and other expenses. The file cabinet is full where clients are paying and there are limited hours in the day for attorney time. Believe me, the "tenuous connection" that the pro bono winner of the year, Ms. Buessing, discusses is the same for lawyers. Not being able to pay my office rent is not, under any circumstances, a "mere inconvenience."
It is not my moral or ethical or legal obligation to work for free. I am not in a position where I have resources in time or money to take a case for free. So when Mr. Coleman asks me to call up the local legal aid office and volunteer for a case for free, I simply say, "No thanks, my friend, I already gave at the office."
Gerald T. Salerno, West Palm Beach
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|Author:||Salerno, Gerald T.|
|Publication:||Florida Bar Journal|
|Article Type:||Letter to the editor|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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