Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Legal Profession is Going Strong, Says ABA

The state of the legal profession appears healthier than ever, even after years of recessionary shrinkage and flat demand.

Lawyer salaries are up, diversity is increasing, and most new graduates are landing jobs, according to the inaugural ABA Profile of the Legal Profession, which was released in August at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

“Law remains an in-demand profession that continues to grow and pay well while making slow, but steady progress when it comes to issues like diversity, technology adoption and employment after graduation from law school,” writes Victor Li in the ABA Journal.

The ABA Profile of the Legal Profession is based on data from the ABA, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Association for Law Placement and other nonprofit groups. It “provides a snapshot of the legal industry and aims to provide lawyers, students, journalists and others with accurate and authoritative data relating to attorney population, wages, diversity, law school attendance, bar passage rates, pro bono hours and more,” Li writes.

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2019 ABA Profile of the Legal Profession

As of January 1, 2019, there were 1,352,027 active lawyers in the U.S. That represents a rise of .7 percent from 2018.

Though this 12-month increase may seem small, the broader context tells a different story. Since 2010, the lawyer population has risen by 12.4 percent, while the overall population rose by only 6.3 percent.

One in three lawyers is female; one in seven is a racial or ethnic minority; one in four practice in New York or California.

Twenty-four percent of associates are Hispanic, African American, Asian American, Native American or mixed race. But only nine percent of partners are minorities.

Let’s dive deeper into some other numbers:

  • Law School Applications. “The report found that the number of law school applicants, after bottoming out in 2015, has steadily increased over the past three years, hitting 60,700 in 2018,” according to Li. “This marks the highest number of applicants since 2012, but it remains far behind the high-water marks of 100,600 in 2004 and 87,900 in 2010.”
  • Lawyer Salaries. “The average lawyer salary in 2018, according to the BLS, is $144,230—a 1.6 percent increase from the previous year, which was lower than the corresponding rate of inflation (2.1 percent). The report, which crunched 20 years’ worth of wage data, found that while attorney salaries are growing at a slow rate, they have never dropped from one year to the next, and the $144,230 average in 2018 is nearly double the average in 1997, which was $72,840.” (Note: BLS statistics do not include profits for law firm partners and shareholders.)
  • Bar Exam Pass Rates. A total of 67,250 people took the bar exam in 2018. Fifty-four percent passed. The highest pass rates were in Utah and Iowa (74 percent). The lowest was in California (36 percent).
  • Jobs for New Lawyers. Only 7.3 percent of new lawyers had no job 10 months after graduation. In 2012, that number was 10.2 percent. Half of new lawyers went to work at law firms. Twelve percent took government jobs, and one percent opened solo offices.
  • Cyber Security. Twenty-three percent of law firms reported a security or data breach in 2018, up from 22 percent in 2017 and 14 percent in 2016. Thirty-four percent of firms have cyber insurance, compared to 26 percent in 2017 and 11 percent in 2015.


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About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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