Alabama’s lawyer fees are going through the roof as it enters a new round of budget cuts, but the state’s highest-profile attorney is still doing well.
According to the attorney general’s office, the average fee for a lawyer is $21,813 per year, up more than 60% from last year.
That increase in lawyer fees comes amid an uptick in state income tax collections, which rose by nearly $4 billion last year to $19.4 billion.
But it also comes amid growing concerns that the state is becoming more expensive for people to live in and pay their bills.
While most lawyers work for low-income families and are not eligible for attorney fees, the fees are skyrocketing because of the state-mandated state medical marijuana program.
According to state estimates, the program costs $1.6 billion annually and has more than 1.4 million patients.
Lawyer fees were also up about 35% from the previous year, according to a recent report from the Alabama Lawyer’s Guild.
The group’s annual survey of lawyers found that fees for the top 10 lawyers rose by more than $9,000 in 2016, while the average attorney’s fees increased by almost $2,000.
This year, the Alabama Attorney General’s office has been taking steps to curb attorney fees and has set up a “payroll-friendly” payment plan that lets people pay their fees online, in person, or by mail.
However, the AG’s office said the program is only for the lowest-income lawyers, not the middle class or the elderly.
“If you’re an attorney who is in the top 1% or the top 0.1%, this program isn’t going to help you.
The program is not going to be for you,” said Rachel Sorenson, executive director of the Alabama Lawyers Association.
“If you are a lawyer who’s in the middle, you’ll be able to use it.”
It is unclear whether these changes are being implemented to slow down the growing number of people who seek legal help and are unable to afford to pay.
For example, some attorneys who represent people who have serious medical issues, including those with terminal illnesses, say the payment plan doesn’t help.
“We’re seeing more people, particularly those with very serious illnesses, getting ahold of this, so it’s very concerning,” said John Dolan, a Birmingham-based attorney and a member of the American Bar Association’s Committee on Bar Examiners, in an interview with the Birmingham News.
“We need to get this right.”
Lawyers are also increasingly using their personal income tax refunds to pay for lawyers, which is not uncommon.
In 2018, lawyers paid nearly $1 billion in income tax, according the Alabama Tax Foundation.
Some states have begun cracking down on attorneys who are abusing their tax refunds for personal expenses.
In Texas, for example, attorneys who claimed deductions for personal living expenses have to pay an additional $5,000 to $10,000 per year.