Thinking of Going to Law School and Becoming a Lawyer? Read These Stats First
It’s that time of year again. Fall brings with it many changes: back to school shopping, shifts in weather cycles, and my personal favorite, football season. Many of us are familiar with the stats of our favorite football team, but how many are familiar with lawyer statistics.
A recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) produced figures that shed light on the current state of the legal profession. More importantly, these statistics are excellent indicators of the direction that the law profession is heading, for better or worse.
Here are some of the highlights from the BLS report as well as some vital attorney statistics from other studies:
- In 2008, lawyers held about 759,200 jobs.
- Employment in the legal field is projected to increase by 13% for the years 2008-2018. This is about the same growth average for all occupations.
- About 40% of all attorneys do not actually practice law. Many persons with law degrees work in non-traditional jobs such as real estate, teaching and academic research, banking, administrative positions, and managerial jobs.
- Nearly 90% of all U.S. lawyers practice in metropolitan regions.
- Some 26% of lawyers are self-employed, practicing either in solo practices or as partners in law firms. Solo practitioners tend to be concentrated in less populated rural areas due to the competition from large firms in metropolitan areas.
- Due to economic constraints, many lawyers change practice areas more than once during their legal career. Lawyer outsourcing overseas is becoming a popular trend in the legal field, and geographic mobility is a key for career success.
- The legal field is becoming increasingly specialized, with some lawyers working as “specialists within a specialty”.
- In 1973, there were less than 10 U.S. law firms with over 100 lawyers. By 1990, the number was 250 firms. There were over 500 large firms by the year 2000, with some “megafirms” employing over 1,000 lawyers.
- Lawyers employed in the 100 largest firms comprise only 5% of the attorney population, but they account for over 20% of the fees.
- There are over 40,000 law firms in the U.S. Only about 2,000 of them employ more than 10 lawyers. This signals an increase in small, boutique-type firms.
- 10% of all lawyers practice law for some level of the U.S. government.
- The U.S. Justice department is the largest legal firm in the entire world.
- Americans spend over $150 billion annually in legal fees
- 37% of U.S. lawyers work 50+ hours a week. For lawyers in private practice, work hours are filled performing a hodgepodge of tasks including client meetings, research and writing, and litigating in court. Lawyers working on a salary basis tend to have more structured workdays.
- The legal profession is quickly incorporating the use of technology. Lawyers use such tools as e-mail, electronic court filing, e-discovery, and internet research more than ever before.
- Lawyering remains one of the most lucrative professions. In May of 2008, the median annual wages for lawyers was $110,590. The middle range of the occupation earned from $74,980 to $163,320.
- Median yearly wages for industries employing the largest numbers of attorneys in May 2008 are:
- Company management and enterprises: $145,770
- Federal Executive Branch: $126,080
- Legal Services/Legal Aid: $116,550
- Local Governments: $82,590
- State Governments: $78,540
- There are 200 law schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). There are several other law schools with only state recognition.
- Law school enrollment reached an all-time high in 2009 with 142,922 students enrolled. Including post-J.D. students, the number enrolled was 152,033.
- Male student enrollment accounts for 53% of the law school student body, with 75,954 males enrolled in law school in 2009. Female law students numbered 66,968, or 47% of the student body.
- Attrition (students leaving or dropping out of law school) for the 2008-09 school year numbered 6,460 students, 76% of which were first year law students.
- Male attrition numbered 3,538, and female attrition was 2,922 students.
- Upon graduation, the vast majority of law graduates still begin their path as a salaried associate in a law firm. In 2007, median salaries for graduates 9 months after graduation were:
- All graduates: $68,500
- Private practitioners: $108,500
- Business: $69,100
- Government: $50,000
- Clerkships (academic or judicial): $48,000
There are already over a million lawyers in the United States and we should expect to see more with the increase in law school applications. As cited in the statistics, many of these graduates will go on to other areas of work besides law. Why is this so? I believe it is due to the nature of the law degree itself. The law touches every area of our lives and beyond. Obtaining a legal degree means that the student is exposed to various fields where their training could be of use.
So what do all these statistics signify? In my opinion, they signal a shift in the overall role and profile of the average attorney today. What we are seeing is a decline of the tradition solo practitioner – you know, the old-school lawyer from the small town who knew everything about every area of law out there. In a word, the Atticus Finches of lore are slowly being phased out.
Instead, we are seeing the rise of the ultra-modernized, urban lawyer who acts as a specialist within a specialty, working for a megafirm or for the government. The new lawyer is apt to change areas of practice at least a few times. Not only that, they may even consider outsourcing to another country due to economic constraints. They are much like the technology of today- mobile, adaptable, international, always downloading new information.
Now back to more football…