Study: Assistant DAs Earn Less Than Courthouse Custodians

Courthouse custodians are better paid than assistant DAs struggling to pay off student loans.
Courthouse custodians are better paid than assistant DAs struggling to pay off student loans.
Josh Reynolds for the Boston Globe

If you were to walk through the doors of a Massachusetts courthouse, you would never guess which of the employees roaming the halls receives the lowest salary.

According to a study released by the Massachusetts Bar Association last month, it isn’t the custodians who mop the floors or clean the sinks. Instead, it’s the assistant district attorneys, many just out of law school and struggling to pay off student loans, who are the lowest paid employees.

The study found that the average assistant DA earns just $37,500 every year. Custodians, on the other hand, receive $38,796. Public defenders, the third lowest paid courthouse employees, earn $40,000 per year.

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The study noted that Massachusetts pays its assistant DAs far less than other states—a salary so low that it only barely covers everyday living expenses.

“The present salaries paid to attorneys working in our criminal justice system are so inadequate that they cannot meet the financial obligations attendant to everyday, normal living,” said the report, which the Bar Association conducted to illuminate the inadequate wages allocated to assistant DAs. “The unvarnished truth is the compensation is so poor that it drives these lawyers away from the criminal justice system or into the ranks of the working poor.”

The Bar Association also encouraged the state to consider the exorbitant student loan payments, which young attorneys have to make, while pondering an increase in salary.

Most assistant DAs are recent law school graduates forced to shoulder thousands of dollars of student loans, while relying on a meager salary to pay off their debt. According to the study, the average prosecutor or public defender has accumulated approximately $140,000 in student loan debt when they enter the workforce.

When one considers student loan payments on top of the exorbitant price of living in Boston, the report argues, the wages of young attorneys appear grossly inadequate.

“Prosecutors and defense attorneys need to eat. And they need a life beyond the workplace,” the study said. “The government cannot expect young, capable lawyers to remain in jobs that cripple them financially and leave them with no time for their families and no means to pursue interests and activities outside of their work.”

The Bar Association concluded that the government should offer more generous salaries to entice young, talented minds into working as public servants.

The study was the result of a Blue Ribbon Commission convened last December to address the compensation given to criminal justice attorneys.