Update (May 2, 2013): Minnesota Litigator got an inquiry about the matter below recently. Following up on the note below, we note that the pressures of practice and the temptation for lawyers to steal may be great but so are (and so should be) the consequences.
Original Post (April 10, 2012): It is all relative, but lawyers do not make all that much money. There is a widespread sense that lawyers make a great deal more than they do because the starting salaries at large law firms are comparatively very high. (And also because average attorney income has gone down in the past 25 years so popular belief may lag empirical data.)
Only a very small percentage of lawyers get the jobs at the largest best-paying firms, of course, and even at many of these top-paying firms there is “salary compression,” meaning that the starting salaries are high (to draw “top talent”) but then the salaries at many of these firms stagnates for several years thereafter (because that data is unpublished and therefore not as competitively damaging). A first-year lawyer at such firms is arguably grossly over-compensated but the firms’ plan is to make it back in years 4-12, when the associates may be under-compensated…
In fact, the practice of law is a very rough ride for many lawyers these days. This, in combination with the special “fiduciary nature” of legal work in which lawyers are entrusted with significant sums of client money on a regular basis, can be a potent and dangerous combination.
So, while we can and should condemn Minnesota attorney Vicki M. Ahl, who appears to have stolen money that she was specifically entrusted to safeguard and distribute to family members when her aunt took a vow of poverty and gave all of her worldly belongings to Ahl for distribution to extended family, perhaps it is particularly the season to temper that condemnation with some element of compassion.