The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
New York State Capitol Building
Albany, New York 12224
Re: Biennial Attorney Registration Fee in Public Protection and General Government Budget — S.1505/A.2005; Part DD
Dear Governor Cuomo:
This letter is sent on behalf of the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (“WBASNY”), the second largest statewide bar association in New York. We are a dynamic organization of more than 4,200 female and male attorneys and judges dedicated to the advancement of women in law and society and the fair and equal administration of justice. WBASNY agrees that the Indigent Legal Services Fund (“ILSF”) is desperately in need of increased funding and supports investigating alternative sources of funding. We cannot, however, agree that the alternative source for such funding should be a substantial and unwarranted increase in the Attorney Registration Fees from $375 to $425.
The Governor’s 2019-2020 budget proposal includes additional state funding for ILSF to be funded by an increase in the Attorney Registration Fee from $375 to $425. We understand and support the need for increased funding of indigent defense services because it pays for constitutionally mandated criminal legal defense for low-income defendants, in criminal matters. However, for the reasons stated below, we have no choice but to again strongly oppose the proposal to raise some of those funds through a $50 increase in the biennial attorney registration fee.
Unfortunately, there is a stereotype or assumption that attorneys are rich and make a lot of money; the proposed fee increase plays off of that unjustified and unfair stereotype. The proposed increase is not proportionate to, and indeed does not even take into account the rate of inflation since the last raise in fees or the fact that women attorneys’ salaries have not increased sufficiently or proportionately since the last fee increase. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2017, lawyers’ median annual wages were $119,250. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less; the lowest paid 10 percent of lawyers earned less than $57,430, and the highest-paid ten percent of lawyers earned more than $208,000. More importantly, the Bureau also reported that “lawyers employed in their own practices usually earn less than those who work in law firms or other business establishments”; “that the majority of lawyers worked full time in 2016”; “many worked more than 40 hours per week;” and “lawyers who are in private practice and those who work in large firms often work additional hours, conducting research and preparing and reviewing documents.”
In addition, lawyer’s salaries as of May 2017 reflect only an increase of 0.6%. And, as stated above, the salaries of women lawyers often lag behind the salaries paid of their male counterparts. Women lawyers earned $1,566 biweekly as compared to men lawyers who earned $1,986 biweekly. Thus, women attorneys’ salaries have not increased sufficiently or proportionately since the last fee increase to justify the fifty-dollar ($50.00) raise in the attorney registration fees. (www.bls.gov/ooh/Legal/Lawyers.htm#tab-5; www.bls.gov/oes/2017/may/oes231011.htm and www.bls.gov/opub/reports/womens-earnings/archive/highlights-of-womens-earnings-in-2013.pdf). Accordingly, a $50 increase would constitute a 9.5% increase in the registration fee, as compared with the paltry 0.6% increase in lawyers salaries. Such an increase is not only exorbitant but also unconscionable.
Moreover, registration fees for attorneys are substantially higher in comparison with the registration fees for other professions, and there is no indication that the fees for the other professions are starting to catch-up. In fact, no other licensed professionals in New York State are subject to registration renewal fees as large as the amount attorneys must pay. The current biennial registration fee for attorneys is $375, and attorneys also have to pay additional fees to attend mandated continuing legal education courses to keep their licenses. By contrast, Certified Public Accountants pay renewal fees totaling $292, and psychologists pay re-registration fees totaling $179. Notably, unlike lawyers who are required to re-register every two years, the State Department of Education only requires other professions to re-register every three years. And, perhaps more importantly, the registration fees for the other professionals as published on the New York State Education Departments Office of the Professions website indicates that the registration fees for other professions remain exactly the same as two years ago. So, in recent years, other professions pay less, have to register every three year and have had no increases.
Increasing the biennial registration fees for attorneys will also place an unfair burden on those who are new to the profession, work as sole practitioners or in small firms, or work for government or non-profit organizations. Many of our members work in governmental offices, for legal services organizations, or in other public service positions and those in private practice often work alone or in small firms. Nonetheless, many of our members devote their spare time as volunteers spending extraordinary hours providing pro bono or discounted services to represent the working poor and indigent in local legal clinics at law schools and in the New York State Unified Court System. Accordingly, subjecting lawyers to a substantial increase in attorney registration fees places substantial financial burdens on these attorneys, who almost always earn far less annually than those in other professions. Moreover, attorneys in public service cannot deduct any portion of their licensing fees as a business expense on their taxes.
Many of our members are the very people who are performing the services needed by the indigent, and the costs of performing these services are frequently far below the actual compensation for doing this work. It is unconscionable to expect these individuals to help underwrite through their attorney registration fees the very services to the poor that they are being called upon to provide. We also understand that $60 of the $375 that each attorney pays to register is provided to the New York State Lawyers Fund for Client Protection and that the New York State IOLA Fund already provides funding for legal services to the poor.
We reject this latest fee increase. We must stress that funding the state’s societal and constitutional obligations by levying a surcharge on the legal profession is inherently unfair. Thus, we submit this letter in opposition to urge the Governor as well as the Legislature to find other means to finance its obligations instead of subjecting New York lawyers to this exorbitant surcharge. Simply stated, this increase is inherently unfair to lawyers, regardless of the good intentions of such increase.
Accordingly, the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York respectfully opposes the proposed increase of the Biennial Attorney Registration Fee.
Greta K. Kolcon