The Demographics of Where to Practice

The American Bar Association (ABA) is out with its annual report on the U.S. lawyer population, The ABA reports that the 2018 attorney population is up 0.2 percent from 2017, and currently numbers 1,338,678. This is probably an undercount since some states do not include senior (retired) attorneys in their count.

While this information is of academic interest, the more useful parts of the report have to do with the state-by-state findings. You might want to consider ratios such as the number of attorneys vs. the overall state population as one element of your job-search/practice location strategy.

In looking at the state-by-state numbers, it is immediately apparent that some states are saturated with lawyers, e.g. New York, California, Texas, Florida, Illinois and the District of Columbia. In contrast, states like the Dakotas, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Maine are significantly underserved.

While the raw numbers are interesting, it is the ratio of attorneys to the state population that is most informative. For the District of Columbia, the ratio is 1 attorney for every 13 residents. In contrast, the ratio for South Dakota is 1 attorney for every 450 residents. In Washington, DC, even if you discount all of the lawyers that work for the U.S. government, trade and professional associations, and lobbying firms, you are still left with the highest ratio in the country of private practitioners to total population.

In addition to South Dakota, the states that have the lowest ratio of attorneys to general population are: Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Alaska, Wyoming, Kansas and Vermont.