Growth of the Legal Profession
The growth of the legal industry has slowed in recent years, according to the 2020 ABA National Lawyer Population Survey, a tally of lawyers by every state bar association and licensing agency.
In the past year, from 2019 to 2020, the number of active lawyers counted in the survey fell 1.7%, but that was almost entirely because of a change in how the District of Columbia counts its lawyers. Previously, D.C. counted all lawyers who work in the district and live in the D.C. area. That included many lawyers who live in Maryland and Virginia. For 2020, D.C. counted only lawyers who live in the district, resulting in a drop of more than 28,000. That accounts for more than the total drop in the number of all lawyers in the survey nationally of 23,335.
Since 2010, the number of lawyers nationally has grown faster than the nation’s population. As of Jan. 1, 2020, there were 1,328,692 active lawyers in the United States. That’s up 10.4% since 2010, when there were 1,203,097 lawyers. Over the same period, the population of the United States grew 6.3%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Since 2000, the number of lawyers nationwide has grown roughly 1.5% each year – from 1,022,462 in 2000 to 1,328,692 in 2020, a 30% increase. In the previous century, from 1900 to 2000, the number of lawyers grew 793% – from 114,460 to just over 1 million.
The largest increase in lawyers occurred in the 1970s, a decade when the number of lawyers jumped 76% – from 326,000 in 1970 to 574,000 in 1980.
For much of the 20th century, the industry’s growth was much slower. It took 50 years for the number of lawyers to nearly double – from 114,000 in 1900 to 221,000 in 1950. It took less than 30 years for that number to double again – from 221,000 in 1950 to 464,000 in 1978.
Lawyers by State
The states with the fastest-growing lawyer populations over the last decade are not necessarily the largest states.
The number of lawyers in Utah grew 25% since 2010. That’s the second-fastest growth in the nation, even though Utah is only the 30th-largest state by population. North Dakota is also one of the smallest states by population, but it, too, had one of the largest rates of growth in lawyers since 2010, by 22%.
However, some large states did record large increases in the number of lawyers. Florida (26%) was the fastest-growing state in the nation for lawyers since 2010. Texas (21%), Georgia (19%) and New York (17%) were also among the 10 largest states by population and among the top 10 states for lawyer growth in the past decade.
Three states – Maryland, Vermont and Louisiana – reported unusually large lawyer growth in the past decade because they changed how they reported lawyer residents, not necessarily because they experienced large growth.
California, which has the largest population in the nation, ranks second in the number of lawyers (168,569) behind New York State (184,662), which has half the population of California.
Three states have lost lawyers since 2010: Alaska (down 4%), Massachusetts (down 3%) and Rhode Island (down 1%).