Lawyers grapple with diminished hours, income during pandemic

By The Star Staff

More than half of Puerto Rico’s 13,000 lawyers have experienced a reduction in hours and salaries as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that has spurred restrictions to business operations since March.

A study of the legal services industry was prepared by along with economic consulting firm Estudios Técnicos. The study showed the challenges for and adaptability of legal professionals in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The results of the study reveal that 59.3 percent of the legal professionals surveyed experienced a reduction in their salary or in the number of working hours during the pandemic, even though in 2019 they had experienced an increase of 2.4 percent in their average salary compared to 2018.

“Our legal system is not only made up of institutions. Understanding the state of the law operators is key to providing conditions that favor access to justice,” CEO Ataveyra Medina Hernández said in a written statement. “This longitudinal study can guide the formulation of public policies that support a legal profession and industry that has adapted to the external challenges of recent years, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to the study, 35.7 percent of those surveyed consider that their greatest challenge during the pandemic was migrating to remote work. Meanwhile, 30.6 percent of the surveyed legal professionals indicated that their greatest challenge was the decrease in their clientele.

The director of analysis and social policy at Estudios Técnicos, Anitza María Cox Marrero, said “the longitudinal view allows us to observe the changes in the work modalities of legal professionals after COVID-19 and how this affects the redefinition of legal practice and legal services.”

Regarding adaptability to the pandemic, the results of the survey show that the percentage of lawyers who work from home increased by 11.9 percent. During 2019, only 22.7 percent of legal professionals worked from home. In 2020, the figure reached 34.6 percent.

“The study shows a portrait of the trends of opportunity that can emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the increase in the use of technology to make the practice viable continues to increase,” Medina Hernández noted. “The diversification of the exercise of the legal profession is a trend that we must continue to look at.”

She noted the increase in the percentage of lawyers who practice the profession in private companies, local, state or federal government, and in non-profit entities.

The study also shows that the number of legal professionals who say they will move from Puerto Rico over the next three years was reduced by 9.1 percent.

Some 650 lawyers, from a population of 13,944 legal professionals who are licensed in Puerto Rico, participated in the study, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percent and a 95 percent confidence level.

The study reveals that 50.8 percent of legal professionals identify as men, 48.8 percent identify as women and .05 percent identify as transgender.

The median age of male and female lawyers in Puerto Rico is 50 years. Some 50.5 percent have incomes that exceed the $75,000 annual mark and 36 percent have graduate studies in addition to the Juris Doctor degree.

About 80 percent of the surveyed lawyers have provided pro bono services or services free of charge at some time, compared to 52 percent of legal professionals who provided pro bono services in 2019.

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