Thursday, May 28, 2009

California Attorneys v. Schwarzenegger (Cal. Ct. App. - May 28, 2009)

I assume that the plaintiffs in this case are right, and that deputy attorneys general in California are significantly underpaid compared to other public service attorneys in California. But I am at the same time completely certain that Justice Raye is also correct that the Legislature, rather than the judiciary, is the proper place in which to seek relief for this unfortunate circumstance.

I'll might also add that I'm not especially persuaded by the statements of doom and gloom for the quality of the counsel employed in the California Attorney General's office. My experience has been that those attorneys are generally pretty darn good. And I am quite confident that the compensation for those levels has not resulted -- contrary to plaintiffs' testimony -- in the AG's Office becoming "the employer of last resort" filled by people unable to find any job elsewhere. Indeed, I think there are tons of lawyers who would much prefer the California AG's office over the jobs they have, particularly young attorneys, but who are passed over. This is especially the case for recent law school graduates, who the AG's office largely categorically refuses to hire.

One (admittedly partial) solution to the crisis that Attorney General Brown identifies might be for the AG's office to revisit this detrimental policy. It's true that it's hard to hire people when you only hire people who are currently employed at jobs that make $X a year -- and often have living and mortgage obligations accordingly -- when your offer is to pay them $X/2. It's easier to hire people, by contrast, who may have the ability to make $X but who nonetheless may be persuaded to prefer a more fulfilling life in the Attorney General's Office, as those hypothetical earnings are much easier to set aside than current earnings.

So if you're willing to train from the inside, rather than making other employers do it for you, at the outset, at least some of this problem might be avoided. In any event, I'm sure that this is a problem to be solved outside the judicial system. I don't minimize the difficulties; again, I'm not pleased that many of the attorneys in this area are paid much less than either they're worth or that's received by comparable attorneys elesewhere. But I do think that the problem is both a wee bit overstated as well as potentially amenable to a solution in other fora.