How can the average american afford a lawyer? In 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States median household income was $51,939 before taxes. In Virginia, after taxes, and assuming a bi-weekly income, that comes out to about $3185.00 monthly. Let’s assume that this person lives in Northern Virginia, the fair market rent, according to the Virginia Housing Development Authority, which is no doubt exceeded for persons not qualifying for section 8 is $1,513.00. This does not take into account utilities, which range from $50 a month to $150 a month, we will take the average at $100. And if you are in Northern Virginia, you likely need a car, which is going to cost you an additional $479.00 per month acceding to edmonds.com. If your in the DC Metro area, you likely have student loans, most people will have about $25,000.00 according to a study done by NERA Ecomonic Consulting which on a 10 year repayment program will have you at about $280.00 per month. Let’s now add on the cost of government mandated heath insurance for an individual, which according to ehealthinsurance.com is at $321.00 per month! At this point, the individual living in Northern Virginia is left with $492.00 and they have yet to ear, pay for gas or metro, allot money to pay for happy hour with friends, and save for retirement. That same person has been denied wages, discriminated against at work, placed in a hostile work environment, sexually harassed or fired without cause. That same person has informed his landlord over and over to fix the toilet that keeps overflowing or has lost money due to a bait and switch. They want to hire a lawyer, but with what money?
In 2016, according to the USAO Attorney’s Fees Matrix (formerly known as the Laffey Matrix) the reasonable hourly rate for an attorney with less than 2 years experience is at $291.00 an hour. If you want an attorney with some experience, lets say 4-5 years, it will cost you $332.00 an hour. If you want a well seasoned attorney at 11-15 years of experience, it will cost you $465.00 an hour. The average american cannot even afford a new attorney at almost $291.00 an hour let alone a seasoned attorney at $465.
What is the solution? The average cost of law school according to CBS News is $91,000 for private school and $71,400 for public schools. Most lawyers simply cannot afford to cut hourly rates, even if they wanted. Lawyers have families to feed, professional dues to pay, and student loans to re-pay. Being a lawyer is an expensive endeavor, therefore legal professionals should be able to reap the reward.
But at what cost, only a select few individuals can actually afford to pay them the hourly rate they deserve. So what happens, lawyers market to those individuals, who turn out to be organizations or small business owners. Who is left to fight for the rights of the average american?