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July 15, 1992

1992.07.15: Briefing Paper on Legal Aid Staff Attorney Salaries

1992.07.15- Briefing Paper on Legal Aid Staff Attorney Salaries (ALAA) — OCR

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Officers/Delegates: Please Copy & Distribute Immediately to All Members of ALAA & 1199

The Association of Legal Aid Attorneys

District 65 • UA W • AFL-CIO

13 Astor Place, New York, NY 10003-6980 • (212} 674-4188 • FAX: (212} 475-6091

Briefmg Paper on Legal Aid Staff Attorney Salaries

July 15, 1992

“There has probably never been a moment … of greater anxiety and pain over equal

justice in America.”  New York 7imes editorial, May 9, 1992.

Events such as the beating of Rodney King and the determination of the Judicial

Commission on Minorities that the New York courts are “infested with racism” have strongly

reinforced the suspicion that the American judicial system is far from evenhanded, particularly

in its treatment of poor people and people of color.

In over 300,000 cases each year, nearly 1,000 members of the Association of Legal Aid

Attorneys work to ensure that equal justice is not merely an empty phrase for indigent New

Yorkers: children, homeless people, tenants, senior citizens, those charged with crimes, and


But in attempting to do so we face numerous obstacles, among them draconian

sentencing statutes, heavy workloads, poor physical working conditions, exposure to

tuberculosis and other diseases, an insufficient representation among legal staff of people of

color, poor treatment of support staff, and a host of other problems. Nothing, however,

presents a more serious threat to quality representation than low Legal Aid attorney salaries,

which for the past two years have been frozen and which, for most staff, are far behind those

at other major public-interest legal agencies.

Comparison of Non-Supervisory Atty. Salaries

Agency Starting Salary Maximum Salary

LAS $29,000 $60,900

LAS Fed. Def. $32,900 $86,100

Man. D.A. $32,000 $91,500

Brooklyn D.A. $30,000 $90,000

BronxD.A. $33,000 $89,000

Corp. Counsel $37,260 $62,100

NYS Atty. Gen. $30,990 $81,599

NYC HRA $39,804 $65,504

L.A. Pub. Def. $41,232 $94,008

A detailed examination of salaries for Legal Aid attorneys and Manhattan assistant

district attorneys (the point of comparison suggested by management in February) makes

Briefing Paper on Legal Aid Staff Attorney Salaries


particularly clear the fact that Legal Aid attorneys are discouraged from making their career

at the Society.1

This disparity is more than unfair; it seriously blunts the Society’s ability to

competitively hire new lawyers, to retain a solid core of seasoned senior attorneys, and to

maintain staff Society morale. As a recent national study of indigent defender organizations

concluded, ” [ t ]he success of indigent defenders is attributable … to the presence of experienced

co.unsel. .. “and to “a close approximation of parity between public defenders and prosecutors

in the areas of compensation … “2 Even the business-oriented Citizens Budget Commission

has concluded that for “positions such as … attorneys … substantial wage increases may be

necessary to attract and retain an adequate supply of qualified workers.”3

In principle, management and the City (which provides the majority of Legal Aid

funds), admit the need for comparable salaries, particularly with assistant district attorneys.

According to the Society’s president, “salaries of Legal Aid lawyers should remain comparable

to those of prosecuting attorneys – otherwise an unacceptable burden has been placed on one

1 See comparison of Staff Attorney salaries with those of non-supervisory Manhattan assistant district

attorneys, at Appendix A.

2 Indigent Defenders, Get the Job Done and Done Wel/3 (Nationai Center for State Courts, May 1992).

3 Toward A Responsible Municipal Wage Policy: Guidelines For The 1990 Round of Bargaining 30 (Citizens

Budget Commission, July 1990).

Briefing Paper on Legal Aid Staff Attorney Salaries

Page3 ‘

side of the scales of equal justice.”4 Similar sentiments have been expressed in recent years

by officials of the Criminal Defense Division, the Society’s public defender unit.5

In reality, however, Society management has done everything possible to avoid creating

salary comparability.

During 1991-1992 wage negotiations, the Society tacitly accepted the Association’s data

that demonstrated the gap with the Manhattan DA’s office, but rejected any increase with

the argument that the comparability principle does not apply after the fifth year6 –

conveniently the point at which the salary chasm widens dramatically – and rejected

additional annual salary steps to retain senior staff.

Management also argued that City money earmarked for wages in the 1990 contract,

but applied toward health benefits which management would otherwise have cut, must now

be included in a salary comparison even though the contract language (drafted by

management) specifically defined comparability as a comparison of the “salary schedule.”7

4 Address of Michael Iovenko to the Legal Aid Society’s Servant of Justice Award Dinner, June 22, 1992, at 2.

5 CDD Deputy Attorney-in-Charge Ivar Goldart, commenting on the above-mentioned National Center for

State Courts study, said that “[a]bsent pay parity and senior attorneys, these results would not have been

obtained. Some jurisdictions didn’t want to be studied [New York was not studied], and you can guess why.”

Coyle, Study Says Indigent Defense Can Be Effective, Nat’l LJ., June 22, 1992, at 9. According to an earlier

report, “Robert Baum, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Division, says low pay is the primary

reason lawyers cite for leaving Legal Aid, usually after four or five years, he says.” Impellizzeri, A Public

Defender Navigates the System, Manhattan Lmryer, Apr.1990.

6 The Union has always rejected this argument. See, e.g., Glaberson, Mayor Seeks City’s Options In Strike at

Legal Aid, N.Y.LJ., Nov. 10, 1982 (“The Union points out that the comparability table being used by the

Society only covers lawyers with five years experience or less.”).

7 Memorandum of Agreement 1 (Apr. 16, 1992, Apr. 22, 1991). Moreover, contrary to management claims, City

health and pension benefits for assistant district attorneys are not clearly inferior to those which apply to

Legal Aid Attorneys. For example, while Legal Aid pays a 65% contnbution into the staff attorney pension

plan, the City’s consolidated contnbution rate is almost 8%, Memorandum of May 14, 1992 from Program

Planners, Inc., and as a defined-benefit plan pays a much higher pension than that at Legal Aid. Unlike the

Society’s health plan, the City’s plan is applicable to retirees and their families. 1991 Health Benefits Summary

Program Description 41-42 (NYC Office of Labor Relations Employee Benefit Program, 1991). The features

of both of these plans therefore encourage senior staff retention.

Briefing Paper on Legal Aid Staff Attorney Salaries


Shortly after attorneys authorized strike action, management said that it was

reconsidering the comparability issue, but now appears to be advancing a new and lower

standard of comparison which continues to exclude more senior attorneys and seems intended

once again to justify a refusal to increase salaries. 8

Ironically, management’s rejection of comparability at all levels coincides with

unprecedented increases in the Society’s budget, which has grown from $101 million in FY1989

to $130 million in FY1992,9 while the number of staff attorneys has remained constant or even

slightly dipped.10 Moreover, at the Association’s persistent prodding, management has

unequivocally conceded for the first time that the Society is not limited to the City’s overall

wage policy, and that it can draw on its $80 million in City funds to pay better salaries.11

Nor has the Society’s refusal to bridge the comparability gap inhibited it from

simultaneously paying high salaries to supervisors, who unlike Staff Attorneys, have received

a 5% 1990 increase, and are soon to receive an additional1.5% retroactive to 1991:

8 Letter of July 13, 1992 from L. Robert Batterman to Michael Letwin.

9 Legal Aid Society Annual Reports, other management statistics.

10 Wise, Public Sector Salaries Bucking the Trend, N.Y.LJ., Mar. 24, 1992.

11 In 1988, management increased attorney salaries without advance permission from the City on the grounds

that such increases were necessary to maintain quality representation, and considered raising the money by

not hiring 40 additional attorneys when the City refused to pay for the entire raise. Giordano, Legal Aid’s

Union Deal Angers City,Manhattan Lawyer, Nov. 8, 1988. But in 1990~ 1991 contract bargaining, management

argued that the City would not allow Legal Aid to re-allocate its spending to increase attorney wages.

Memorandum of Feb. 21, 1991 from Archibald R. Murray to All Staff Attorneys (“Such a solution [the

Association’s proposal to transfer an additional!% of Society funds to staff attorney salaries] … directly

contravenes OMB [City Office of Management and Budget] guidelines which mandate an increase of no more

than 1.5% in new money for wages and benefits.”). This argument we:·s undercut when then-Deputy Mayor

for Public Safety Milton Mollen stated that the Society was not so restricted from such re-allocation.

Confirmation letter of Apr. 4, 1991 from Michael Letwin to Milton Mollen; Wise, City Seeks $4.8 Million

Cut From Legal Aid Budget, N. Y.LJ., Apr. 10, 1991. In response to the Association’s report at a bargaining

session on July 1, 1992 that the City has reaffirmed this position, management conceded that Society

re-allocation was not blocked by the City, but that the Society chose not to do re-allocate its City funds as a

matter of Legal Aid policy.

Briefing Paper on Legal Aid Staff Attorney Salaries


Comparison of Legal Aid Management and Government Official Salaries

LAS Staff Attorney Starting $29,000

LAS Staff AttomeyAverageu 40,000

LAS ManagementAverage13 74,000

NYC Police Chief 104,500

LAS Division Chief 106,000

NYS Appellate Division Judge 107,500

NYS Chief Judge 120,000

LAS Executive Director 123,000

NYC Mayor 123,000

Legal Aid Staff Attorneys don’t expect to earn the $85,000 average starting salary at

major private law firms in New York; we work at the Society to provide high quality legal

representation to poor people.

But in boosting staff demoralization and attrition, these unconscionably low salaries

undermine the Society’s stated mission and send the message that – no matter how serious

their case – indigent clients are not entitled to the most seasoned and skilled attorneys. As

the president of New York County Lawyers’ Association has explained in regard to judicial

salaries, “cut-rate salaries … will give us short-cut justice.”14

For these reasons, the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys has demanded retroactive

comparability with Manhattan assistant district attorneys salaries and called for 1993 and 1994

increases that match raises received by ADAs, or the regional cost of living, whichever is


So seriously do Legal Aid attorneys regard this issue that our members have authorized

an October 1st “No Contract, No Work” policy accompanied by limited strikers prior to

October, one of which will take place on July 15th during the Democratic Convention, for the

first time in conjunction with Local 1199 support staff and workers at the Criminal Justice


At a time in which many accurately perceive that th~ law does not deal out equal justice,

quality indigent representation demands nothing less.

12 This figure was provided by management.

13 Average derived from management statistics on non-union professional staff.

14 Field, Cut-Rate Salaries and Cut-Rate Justice, N.Y.L.J., Feb.18, 1992.


Calculation of ALAA Wage Demand (April3, 1992) J



# of Staff CUrrent ADA Dollar Percent Total $ Yr./Step Attorneys.:. LAS Salary Salary2 Difference Difference DisparitT

LG 97 29,000 32,000 3,000 10.3 291,000

l 27 3!.,500 33,000 1,500 4.8 40,500

2 119 33,424 34,000 576 1.7 68,544

3 14.1 37,450 38,000 550 1.5 77,550

4 143 41,6.12 42,500 sea· 2.1 126,984

5 158 45,.102 45,500 398 0.9 62,884

6 58 47,5.18 49,000 1,482 3.1 85,956

7 53 48,861 53,000 4,.139 8.5 219,367

8 23 50,067 58,500 8,433 16.8 193,959

9 18 51,411 62,500 11,089 21.6 199,602

10 15 52,572 65,500 12,928 24.6 193,920

ll. 5 54,229 69,500 15,271 28.2 76,355

12 4 55,571 73,500 17,929 32.3 71,716

13 2 60,900 74,500 13,600 22.3 27,200

14 3 60,900 75,500 14,609 24.0 43,800

15 11 60,900 79,000 lS,lOO 29.7 199,100

16 8 60,900 85,000 24,100 39.6 192,800

17+ ~ 60,900 91,500 30,600 50.2 ~~8361000

945 lO.l\4 4,007,2375

l.rhese numbers were provided by LAS manaqemant. Included is a brealcciown of Step 13 by years

of service, to allow for a direct comparison with the District Attorneys.

2All fiqures relata to non-supervisory ADA’s. !’or years 9-14, where the DA’s have a salary-.

ranqe, the lowest salary has bean selected.

3coverinq the o~e year period, October 1, 1991 – September 30, 1992.

‘This is the averaqe salny disparl ty per year/step.

5This fiqure represents the total dollar amount required to achieve comparability with the

District Atto1·neys.


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