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North Dakota Commission on Legal Counsel for Indigents -- 'getting tougher to hire attorneys'

The director of North Dakota’s Commission on Legal Counsel for Indigents says it’s getting tougher to hire attorneys, or contract with outside legal counsel.

Travis Finck told the Legislature’s interim Judiciary Committee there are nine attorney vacancies – and that means contracting with private attorneys. And Finck said that’s becoming more difficult, because of the pay. He said the legislature approved hiring those outside lawyers at a rate of $80 an hour. But Finck told the committee that may not be enough to attract those lawyers.

"For example, the federal CJA — Criminal Justice Act, where private attorneys can get paid in federal court — is at $172 per hour," Finck said. "In North Dakota, with us being at $80, it's getting more and more difficult to find people wanting to do work for us, when they can get paid more than twice as much in federal court."

Finck also said neighboring states, such as Minnesota and South Dakota, are paying higher hourly rates for indigent legal services. And he told lawmakers for full-time attorneys, the state lags behind not only private law firms, but the counties as well.

"We did get target-market equity funds from the Legislature, and we are appreciative of that," Finck said. "The problem was, when we got those equity funds, it brought us up to a par for about 30 seconds."

Finck said the counties went back to their county commissioners and got increases. He said the Commission can offer a new lawyer $70,000 a year— but in Burleigh County, the lawyer could become a prosecutor, and start at $90,000 a year.

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