Studying the law is a profession that is almost as old as time itself. Lawyers today come from a variety of ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds, creating a unique career-based demographic that can shed some light on the people behind one of the general public’s least favorite professions.
In 2014, there were 1.3 million licensed lawyers practicing in the United States.
The educational requirements to become a lawyer today are extensive. The need to have good grades and to graduate at or near the top of one’s class separates the dedicated from those who are less passionate about the law. Yet despite this fact, most lawyers end up working for themselves or in small practices.
Who Becomes a Lawyer in the Modern World?
- 88% of current lawyers come from a White/Caucasian background. This percentage has not changed in the last 10 years.
- Just 4% of practicing lawyers in the United States are African-American/Black.
- Hispanics make up 3.7% of US practicing lawyers.
- Asian-Pacific Americans make up an almost equal percentage of practicing lawyers when compared to Hispanics at 3.4%.
- In 2005, 70% of practicing lawyers were male. For the 2014 school year, however, 48% of new law students were women.
- In 1980, 92% of practicing lawyers in the United States were men.
- The median age of a lawyer in the United States today is 49. In 1980, the median age was 39.
- Just 4% of practicing lawyers today are under the age of 30. In comparison, 62% of practicing lawyers today are above the age of 45.
- Minority enrollments for new students in law school currently stand at 28%.
There has been a clear shift in age in the legal profession in the last 30 years. The lawyers who started practicing in the 1980s are still practicing today. Fewer students are pursuing law as a profession as well. Even in just the last 5 years, the total enrollment of students in law school has decreased by 10%. This means lawyers are extremely experienced today, but eventually that experience is all but going to disappear unless new students are willing to enter into this profession. Considering the strong racial bias that is also in this field, yet a move toward a larger overall minority population, it may be quite difficult to reverse this trend.
How Lawyers Are Practicing Today
- 3 out of 4 lawyers are working in a law firm that has 2-5 lawyers working for it.
- 13% of lawyers state that they work in a legal firm that employs 6-10 lawyers.
- Just 11% of lawyers work for firms that employ more than 10 lawyers. 2% of lawyers work in firms that employ more than 50 lawyers at the same time.
- When it comes to private practices, 49% of lawyers practice the law on their own. Another 14% work in a law firm that employs 2-5 lawyers.
- 16% of lawyers, however, work for a legal firm that employs more than 100 lawyers at once.
- 3 out of 4 lawyers will find employment within the private practice industry.
- 8% of lawyers who graduate will find employment with their government. Another 8% will take a position with a private industry.
- 4% of the registered lawyers for the American Bar Association list themselves as either inactive or retired.
- Just 1% of law students who have graduated will seek out work in a legal aid or public defense position.
- There are about 47,000 law firms that are currently practicing and employing lawyers in the United States right now.
- Lawyers who work for physicians or medical practices make the highest average income, making more than $110 per hour.
- The lowest overall wage for the lawyer demographics in the United States is in Montana, where they make just over $35 per hour on average.
- Highly publicized cases can cause an attorney’s earnings to grow exponentially. Some lawyers after a successful high profile case may earn more than $2,400 per hour – or the equivalent of about $5 million per year.
There is a clear pursuit of money within the lawyer demographics, but that is completely understandable. The costs of law school are quite high. The average cost of law school today is more than $34,000 per year, and if you get into a Top 10 law school, that cost jumps to an average of $43,000 per year. The naturally prices out many in the minority community simply because of the socioeconomic makeup of the country. For those who do make it through, the amount of debt they have may be quite high. Who wants to take a job that pays less per year than what they paid per year to get their education in the first place? There’s virtually no chance at becoming a “star” lawyer who can earn millions in a legal aid position.
Women and Minorities Are Struggling
- In 2014, only 17% of equity partners were women and just 5.6% were minorities.
- In 2009-2012, 45% of incoming new law students were women. This is the highest percentage women have ever achieved in this field.
- Since 2005, there has been just a 6% increase in the number of women who are becoming licensed as lawyers.
- The average wage of a lawyer in the United States is $133,000 per year, yet the bottom 10% of salary earners makes just $55,000 per year.
- The District of Columbia offers the largest annual wages for lawyers in the US at $168,000 per year. California and New York both offer wages above $150k. Delaware comes in fourth at $146k per year.
- 23% of legal students who have graduated with a law degree have failed to find employment within their preferred field within 9 months of their graduation date.
- in 2013, only 57% of law graduates found full-time bar-passage-required jobs, according to ABA data.
Just because someone studies law doesn’t mean that they’ll actually become a lawyer. Paralegals, judicial clerks, and other positions are also attractive to the modern law student. There are also many graduates who are pursuing careers outside of law simply because there is so much saturation within this market. Lawyers aren’t leaving since the boom in the 1980s, which means experience counts in this industry more than ever before. If you’re a new lawyer, there’s a good chance you’re either going to be forced to establish your own practice or find a job elsewhere if you want to make some money. According to the BJS, the unemployment rate for lawyers is just 0.5%.
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