Lawyers or Teachers, Which Are the Elitists?

Lawyers or Teachers, Which Are the Elitists?

By Seth Grossman, Political Columnist
??? Last week, a “retired Mainland High School” teacher wrote that I was an “elitist”.?? She doesn’t know me, but assumed that I must be, because I am a lawyer.

??? I am responding, because I know a lot of NJEA-influenced teachers and administrators who feel the same way.?? They believe that most lawyers and others in private business make more money and enjoy more comfortable lifestyles than they do.?? And so they believe that as “educators”, they are “entitled” to their “excellent” salaries, vacations, benefits, and pensions.

??? That is why they don’t mind being forced to pay roughly $850 a year to the NJEA teacher’s union.?? They know the $85 million paid each year, by NJ’s 110,000 public school teachers, makes them the most powerful political force in New Jersey.?? They are OK with using that absolute power to tax people like me as much as they want — so they can enjoy the same lifestyle they imagine that we have.

??? This is all new.?? Before 1966, NJ did not have complicated laws that forced taxpayers to pay what the teacher’s union demanded.?? Elected officials then were free to only pay their “public servants” what their communities could afford.?? At that time, New Jersey had no income tax, no sales tax, no lottery, and no casinos.?? Business, cigarette, and real estate transfer taxes were a fraction of what they are today.?? But back then, public schools were much better.?? And with lower taxes, parents could spend less time working, and more time with their children.

??? Here are some “inconvenient truths” for public school teachers and administrators, who compare themselves to self-employed, professional and business people like me:

??? 1.? I and most of my colleagues are not “elitists”.?? I worked with my hands to help pay for college and law school.?? I washed dishes, cleaned tables, mopped floors, drove a cab, made change, and in the military, I cleaned the grease-trap at the mess hall.?? Those experiences taught me as much about being an effective lawyer as what I learned in school.?? I wish more kids today worked during the summer.

??? 2.? I usually bill my law clients $200 per hour.? But I and my partner get less than half of that.?? The rest goes out for secretaries, utilities, office space (which includes high property taxes), insurance, postage, telephone, advertising, library and research services, etc. …

??? 3.? But that doesn’t mean I get close to $100 per hour for a 40 hour week.?? Like public school teachers who mark papers, and talk to parents and students, etc …? on their “own time”,? I can’t and don’t bill clients for initial consultations, bidding and estimating for work we don’t get, reading journals to keep up with new laws, etc. …

??? 4.? But unlike public school teachers, self-employed lawyers don’t always get paid in full for the work we are hired to do.?? Sometimes I work on a “contingent fee” basis, and there is little or no recovery — in spite of heroic efforts.?? Sometimes my clients can’t pay because of bankruptcy, foreclosure, or loss of job.?? Sometimes, what looks like a simple divorce or custody case ends up so complicated that I can’t charge for much more than the original estimate.?

??? 5.?? Self-employed lawyers don’t get pay hikes each and every year.?? If I raise my rates, clients can hire other lawyers who don’t.?? Public school teachers don’t have that problem.?? I also paid a fortune for health insurance — until my wife got a job with a public school.

??? 6.? I don’t have a pension.?? When I retire, I’ll live on the money I saved.?? Not so for public school teachers.?? Under NJ law, teachers with 25 years, who paid peanuts to the pension fund in their early years, can collect 45% of what they made in their three highest years at age 57.?? When the pension fund is short (which is every year), the rest of us get whacked with big tax hikes to make up the difference.

??? 7.? If you count vacations, holidays, ten sick days, and three personal days, NJ teachers work 35 five day weeks, and have 17 weeks off with pay.?? I work during many nights, weekends, and holidays, and am lucky to get two or three weeks off during the year.

??? I know three ex-lawyers who are now teachers.?? I passed the test and would like to join them.?? But there are many applicants and very few openings.

For more information, visit or contact Somers Point attorney Seth Grossman at or 609-927-7333.?? Seth Grossman hosts a two-way talk radio program every Saturday from 8am – 9am on WVLT Vineland, 92.1 FM.

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