Yesterday I was deposed as an expert witness in a patent case. The deposition was held at a law firm in the Seaport and started early in the morning so I decided to treat myself to an Uber (“black car” version, not the discount UberX). A Lincoln that could have been magnificently comfortable appeared. However, it was 40 degrees Fahrenheit outside and the driver, an immigrant from Ethiopia, had not elected to run on the climate control system. When I asked him if he would consider adding some heat, he used the touch screen on the dashboard to set the “front zone” (where he was sitting) to 80 degrees while leaving the rear zone (where I was sitting) off. I am always interested when people use technology in this manner so I asked him “Do you set the thermostat in your house at 80?”
I spent the rest of the day sitting with the attorneys who’d hired me. These native-born Americans with engineering undergraduate degrees and three years of law school behind them understood the technology of the patent plus all of the legal rules that apply to fights in Federal District Court, patent offer reexaminations, the new PTAB administrative law court within the patent office, the International Trade Commission, etc. Winning or losing a case will nearly always mean tens of millions of dollars changing hands if not hundreds of millions. The attorneys were able to keep an astonishing array of facts alive in their heads simultaneously and apply those facts.
What’s the income difference between these folks? This Reuters article says that New York taxi drivers earn about $150 per day driving their $1 million assets (the medallion!). That’s about what a law firm senior associate earns in one hour, so that’s maybe a 10:1 income ratio. This BLS page says taxi drivers earn closer to $12 per hour, a 12:1 ratio. Uber apparently does not gather statistics on what drivers actually earn, but has claimed at least once that it may be as much as $70,000 per year. Let’s call that $25 per hour or a 6:1 ratio.
[Note that all of these ratios would be smaller if we considered the fact that the law firm senior associate probably ends up working a lot more than 40 hours per week, so his or her $200-300,000/year income needs to be divided by 3000 hours instead of 2000 and works out to less than $100 per hour.]