AG Cooper: More Funding or Lose Lawyers

Attorney General Robert Cooper told lawmakers Tuesday his office lost 14 percent of its lawyer workforce to other offices and firms last year, in part because the state’s salaries for experienced lawyers are not competitive.

That figure was more than double the percentage that left the prior year, fiscal year 2010, Attorney General Cooper said at a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

“My most important issue in the office is finding the money to keep excellent lawyers that we have, keep them working for the state,” Cooper said.

Cooper underscored his office’s work suing people to bring money into state government coffers.

“In the current fiscal year budget, my office is receiving $24.1 million in state dollar funding. In comparison, just four of our divisions – Bankruptcy, Collections, Consumer, and Medicaid Fraud – returned to the state $33 million in fiscal year 2010-2011,” Cooper said.

According to Cooper, 48 of the lawyers in his office, or about one-third, make between $50,000 and $60,000 a year. Of that one-third, 40 make between $50,000 and $55,000 a year and have up to 10 years of experience.

The median wage per year for lawyers in the Nashville area is roughly twice that figure at $100,320, according to an American Bar Association study of Census and other data.

Cooper said many of the lawyers who left the AG’s office received pay increases between $10,000 and $20,000.

Gov. Bill Haslam has said he is interested in finding better incentives for good employees after several commissioners have complained they struggle to retain quality workers. As part of his legislative package, Haslam has proposed ways to place more emphasis on merit and skills — as opposed to just years with the state — in hiring and promotion decisions.

“The team with the best players wins. It’s just true,” he said at a Cookeville meeting with local civic and business leaders. “So the most important thing we do is make certain we have the very best people.”