The Internet can tell you a great deal about where the lawyers are in America. There is one website, however, that does that better than any other when it comes to entire states. But keep in mind when you examine it that the state situation does not tell you the whole story.
The Avery Index
The Avery Index http://www.averyindex.com is the source of some very useful statistics about attorney populations, the most worthwhile being the per-capita attorney population of each state. At first glance, you will see that the states with the fewest attorneys per 10,000 population are, predictably, the ones that first come to mind when you think of sparsely populated areas. In order by fewest attorneys per 10,000 people, the most legally “underserved” states are:
North Dakota 4.4 per 10,000 people
South Dakota 5.8
New Mexico 6.9
One of the most striking pieces of information derived from this list is that there are 35 states that have fewer than 10 attorneys per 10,000 population. At the extreme other end of the list stands the District of Columbia, with 277 attorneys for every 10,000 residents—an attorney density that is more than 1,300 percent greater than any other jurisdiction. Of course, when you view this number, you have to pose to yourself the question of why DC has so many attorneys. When you consider that a substantial number of them do not have private clients, but rather work for the U.S. government, the deterrent effect of so many attorneys per capita might be lessened.
Don’t Overlook Opportunities in Otherwise “Overlawyered” States
When considering how this information could be incorporated into your own career considerations, it is important that you go beyond the “macro” numbers and think about the numbers behind each state’s per-capita data. You need to realize first that overall state per-capita statistics don’t really tell you very much. Deem them merely a platform from which you can perform a more in-depth analysis.
The most important consideration is that the distribution of per-capita attorneys is not going to be uniform throughout any state. Metropolitan areas are almost always going to present a higher attorney concentration than “micropolitan” and rural areas of the state. In other words, the attorney distribution is going to be highly uneven from one part of a state to another. The supply of attorneys in Bismarck, North Dakota is likely to be very different from what it is in sparsely populated regions of the state. Non-metro areas of highly populated states like California, Texas, New York, or Florida may nevertheless be likely to be underserved by attorneys and thus very compelling places to practice. You can travel for hours through any of these four highly-populated states that are intensely rural, dotted only by intermittent small towns. Even in the most densely populated state, Rhode Island, you will find underpopulated areas with few attorneys. If you did not know where you were, you might think you are in North Dakota.
The lessons from all of this are:
(1) Examine the statistics, but with a critical eye;
(2) Do your own in-depth research; and
(3) By all means do your “locational” due diligence.