Lawyers with the wrongfully imprisoned people in a US court of appeals are earning an average of $1.5 million a month, a survey by the American Bar Association found.
The US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next week on whether the federal government can enforce a 2012 law that requires lawyers to seek damages from wrongfully convicted defendants if they are awarded a wrongful death award.
Lawyers must also get a final approval from a federal judge, which is rarely granted, and have to pay $7,000 per hour to stay in the position, which can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The law was originally designed to address wrongful conviction cases and was expanded in 2018 to include wrongful death cases.
The American Bar Foundation (ABA) said it was investigating the survey, which included 1,000 lawyers.
It said the survey was conducted by the National Bar Association and it had not seen the data in full.
The survey was done after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law, which has not been ruled on.
Lawyers are paid on average $2,320 a month for their work on behalf of the accused, the ABA said.
The number of wrongful death lawsuits filed by lawyers with clients who were convicted of a crime rose from 4,800 in 2014 to nearly 9,000 in 2018, the report said.
ABA President Alan Gura said in a statement the data showed a widening of the gap between lawyers who get paid well and those who do not.
He said lawyers who got wrongful convictions in the last decade were doing a better job than those who were not.
“The legal profession’s reputation is in a terrible state right now, and the AGB survey shows that we can do much better,” Mr Gura added.
The ABA survey showed that the median salary for a lawyer was $2:31 per hour in 2018.
A lawyer’s total compensation from clients ranged from $1,814 in 2017 to $721,000 last year.
Lawyers who lost a wrongful conviction earned $1 per hour more than those that did not.
A legal services company said the average hourly rate for lawyers in 2018 was $1 $1 and that a lawyer who got an appeal of a wrongful judgment received $1 an hour.
A separate survey by ABA showed that lawyers with cases pending in federal courts in 2018 made more than half of what their counterparts with no pending cases.
This represented a 2.5% increase from 2017.
The average hourly wage for a law firm in 2018 for an associate or senior partner was $84,900, up 1.6% from 2017, according to the AAB.
The median hourly wage was $90,000, according the survey.
A law firm that represents a criminal defendant was paid $8,900 last year, up 3.9% from a year ago.
This figure is the highest since 2009, when the rate was $8.20 per hour.
The report also said the percentage of lawyers who were paid more than $1 million was higher than the US average, at 42.9%.
The average salary for lawyers with a criminal case pending was $5,904 in 2018 and was also the highest in the survey at $6,972, the figures showed.
The figure for a criminal trial lawyer was about $1:17 an hour, and a trial lawyer with no cases pending earned $4,711.
The rate of growth in lawyers’ earnings has been a concern for lawyers for decades.
The last time lawyers were required to pay a lawyer a fair share of the legal costs of a criminal conviction was 1988, the same year the Supreme Court struck down a 1976 law that mandated compensation for wrongful convictions.