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Economic Survey offers update on economic trends among Missouri practitioners


Missouri lawyers interested in evaluating their firm’s performance relative to comparable law firms will be most interested in the latest version of The Missouri Bar Economic Survey – 2019, which is now available.

Missouri lawyers interested in evaluating their firm’s performance relative to comparable law firms will be most interested in the latest version of The Missouri Bar Economic Survey – 2019, which is now available.

The report provides economic information about Missouri’s lawyers who practice as solo practitioners, government attorneys and corporate counsel, as well as those who work in law-related and non-legal professions. Some sections of the report include data from previous surveys to demonstrate trends during the past few years.

Since 1958, The Missouri Bar has conducted a survey every other year to gain insight into the economics of law practice in the state of Missouri. The 2019 version provides a snapshot of the economic performance of the legal profession in the state as of December 31, 2018.

The survey was administered in the spring and summer of 2019 to a random sampling of 4,000 bar members, with 36.4% responding to the survey.

Highlights of the survey include:

Income Overview

Bar members reported incomes from six categories: private practice; corporate law-related; government law-related; public interest/non-profit; other law-related; and non-law related. In 2018, incomes ranged from $0 to $55,000,000, with the highest median income ($130,000) reported by those working in corporate law-related positions.

Income by Employment Category

Bar members were asked about changes in income from 2017 to 2018. Income increased for 62.9% of respondents; stayed the same for 22.1%; and decreased for 15.1%.

Income by Gender

In 2018, median income from all types of employment for women lawyers responding to the survey was 71% of the total median income from all types of employment for male lawyers. By comparison, the median income in 2016 for female respondents was 64% of the median income of male respondents and in 2014 was 66% of the total median income of male respondents.

Income by Age

As in 2010, 2014, and 2016, respondents between the ages of 56 and 65 reported the highest annual median income. At $103,000 in 2018, the median income for respondents age 75 and older was much higher than in all previous years. The lowest median income was reported by respondents age 30 years and younger, although the median income for that group increased by 6% from 2016 to 2018.

Compensation for Newly Admitted Lawyers in Private PracticeThe number of newly admitted lawyers in private practice paid $30,000 or less per year continues to slightly decrease, accounting for 5% in 2010; 4% in 2012; 3% in 2014; 1.2% in 2016; and 1.1% in 2018. In 2018, most new attorneys in private practice (22.1%) were paid $45,001 to $60,000, while 16.4% were paid $60,001 to $75,000, and 18.5% were paid $115,001 to $130,000.

Changes in Employment/Underemployment/Unemployment

In 2018, 14.4% of respondents changed jobs. As in 2016, nearly one-fifth of respondents reported that they considered themselves underemployed, with 9% stating this situation was not by their choice. The highest percentage of those underemployed, not by their choice, were those 46 to 55 years of age (9.1%). Unemployment increased from 1.6% in 2016 to 2.1% in 2018.

Student Loans

Approximately 44% of the 2018 survey respondents report still owing money on their student loans. The percentage has remained consistent since the 2010 survey. In 2018, almost half (47.5%) of lawyers licensed in 2018 owed more than $80,000, with 9.8% owing more than $200,000. Of all respondents, 6.3% reported owing more than $200,000 in student loans.

Sole Practitioners

In 2018, 28% of respondents engaged in full or part-time private practice identified themselves as sole practitioners. Men account for 68% of sole practitioners and women 32%. The percentage of sole practitioners who have designated a successor was 60.7%, an increase from 2016 (56.8%).

Flat Fee Services/Limited Scope Representation

Survey respondents were asked if during the past five years they had begun offering their clients flat-fee options in lieu of hourly billing. In 2018, 60.9% reported offering flat fees for some services, with 17.4% charging flat fees for most services. Slightly less than 22% reported that they do not offer flat fees for any services. Respondents or their law firms offering limited scope representation services in 2018 increased to 64.8% from 56.4% in 2016.

Payment of Fees by Credit Card and PayPal

Offering clients the option to pay by credit card continues to increase. In 2018, 65.4% of respondents reported accepting credit cards. This is an increase from 56% in 2014 and 59.5% in 2016. In contrast, only 13.2% of the respondents in private practice reported accepting payment of fees by PayPal in 2018, up from 8.2% in 2016.

Private Practice Support Staff

Of respondents in private practice, 51.9% reported paying legal secretary annual salaries of more than $40,000 in 2018. Salaries for legal assistants/paralegals varied greatly, with most being in the range of $32,001 to $64,000.

Advertising and Marketing

During the past five survey years (2010 – 2018), law firms have consistently reported firm websites as the primary type of firm advertising. Networking or social events, professional organizations, and speaking engagements continue to remain primary types of advertising. Social media rose again in 2018 to a third-place ranking from fourth in 2016 and sixth in 2014. The percentage of attorneys choosing to advertise through Yellow Pages ads retained its ninth-place ranking after a steady decrease during the previous survey years (ranked third in 2010; seventh in 2014; and ninth in 2016).

Main Sources of New Clients

Referrals from clients and friends remain the primary source of new clients, closely followed by referrals from other lawyers or professionals. Another major source of new clients is the positive reputation of the lawyer in the practice. Those continue to rank well ahead of advertising, social media, and lawyer referral services/other professional referral services as a source for new clients.

The full content of The Missouri Bar Economic Survey – 2019 is available to download as a PDF document in the Practice Portal section of The Missouri Bar’s website.