Lawyer population 15% higher than 10 years ago, new ABA data shows

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The number of active attorneys in the United States has increased by 15.2 percent over the last decade, according to the ABA’s National Lawyer Population Survey.

The total number of lawyers in the United States as of Dec. 31 was 1,338,678. Ten years before that, the total number was 1,162,124.

The last time there were fewer than 1 million lawyers in the United States was 1998, when there were 985,921 lawyers, according to the ABA’s historical data going back to 1878.

But while the annual survey is useful for studying trends, the numbers for the survey are based on data submitted by state bar associations or licensing agencies, and those entities sometimes change their reporting standards. For example, in the 2018 survey, Oklahoma appeared to have 13.2 percent fewer attorneys than in 2017. But that was because of a shift in how the Oklahoma Bar Association classified senior attorneys; while Oklahoma attorneys can practice after the age of 70, they are no longer tallied as “resident active attorneys” in the state’s official counts. The Virgin Islands’ 2018 data was also not completely comparable to its 2017 statistics, because in 2017 they changed how they tallied active and inactive attorneys, and in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the territory was unable to confirm residency numbers.

In raw numbers, the five states reporting the highest number of resident active lawyers were:

  1. New York – 177,035

  2. California – 170,044

  3. Texas – 90,485

  4. Florida – 78,244

  5. Illinois – 63,422

The states with the fewest number of resident active lawyers were North Dakota, with 1,694 lawyers, followed by Wyoming, with 1,716 lawyers, and South Dakota, with 1,995 lawyers.

Sixty-four percent of actively practicing lawyers are men and 36 percent are women, according to a statistic based on the 45 states that provided the data. That’s a four-percentage-point shift from 10 years ago, when 68 percent of active attorneys were men and 32 percent were women, based on information provided by 39 states.

In recent years, race and ethnicity information has been collected as well, though currently only 20 states report that data to the ABA. For 2018, the reported data shows 85 percent of attorneys identify as Caucasian/White; 5 percent as African-American; 5 percent as Hispanic; 3 percent as Asian; 1 percent as Native American; and 1 percent as multiracial.

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