Bar Associations

2020 state of the profession report shows dearth of lawyers in rural areas, attorney debt struggles

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Some states with the highest amount of lawyers per capita also have rural areas with few, if any, attorneys, according to the 2020 ABA Profile of the Legal Profession.

Released July 28, a webinar about the profile, focused on “legal deserts,” is scheduled for Tuesday at 10 a.m. CST. The offering also includes data about the number of lawyers per capita in all 50 states and drills down by state regions. It was produced by the ABA’s Media Relations & Strategic Communications.

New York has the highest number of lawyers per capita, with 9.5 attorneys for every 1,000 people, according to the profile. In New York City, there are 14 attorneys for every 1,000 people. Meanwhile in Orleans County, which is between Buffalo and Rochester, there are 40,000 residents and only 31 attorneys.

Maryland had the second highest number of lawyers per capita, with 6.7 attorneys for every 1,000 residents. Massachusetts was third, with 6.2 lawyers for every 1,000 residents. Arizona, Arkansas and South Carolina had the lowest number of attorneys, with each state having 2.1 lawyers per 1,000 residents.

States with large rural areas often have many counties with few attorneys, according to the profile. One example of this is Arizona, where two-thirds of the counties have fewer than one lawyer per 1,000 residents. Also in Idaho, two-thirds of counties have fewer than one lawyer per 1,000 residents, including three counties with no lawyers at all and two counties with only one lawyer, according to the report.

The 2020 profile also looks at issues including wage trends, school debt and legal education, with information from a variety of sources. That includes a new ABA Young Lawyers Division report compiled of online poll information from 1,084 attorneys. Forty-eight percent reported that they have postponed or decided not to have children because of their debt, and about 29% reported that they postponed or decided not to marry because of their debts.

Black and Latino law school graduates generally had more student loan debt than white students, the report found.

Conducted in March 2020, the poll allowed respondents to provide comments. A total of 226 people provided comments, and there was an “underlying theme of unhappiness, frustration and fear stemming from loan burdens,” according to the profile.

“Many mentioned issues with mental health, and some cited depression. Others mentioned an inability to save for the future or retirement, as well as difficult choices related to healthcare for themselves or their family,” according to the report.

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