ABA Survey: Lawyer Demographics, Diversity and Wage Data in 2021

If nothing else, 2020 and 2021 have been years to remember. In a very short timeframe, the world has been through unprecedented change on so many fronts, and more is yet to come.

Not surprisingly, the legal profession has not been immune, and lawyers and their firms have been impacted in many different ways. Work-from-home has become par for the course, and firms have incorporated remote working, cloud-based technologies into their law firms at rates never before seen, including e-signature tools, and online payments.

Many of these technologies and practices are here to stay, but because of all the change, it’s difficult to predict what the legal profession will look like on the other side of the pandemic. That’s where annual surveys come in. Data from these surveys provide insight that helps make sense of what’s happened, while also providing a foundation of knowledge for future planning. For example, the ABA Profile of the Profession 2021, which I wrote about last week, includes data regarding the effects of the pandemic on the legal profession (discussed in my earlier post), along with demographic and wage insights that law firms leaders can use as part of their annual planning.

What follows are some of the more notable data points from this year’s Report relating to lawyer wage and demographic information. Not only is this data interesting, it also provides useful statistics for both job seekers and hiring attorneys in law firms. So without further ado, let’s dive into some of the Report’s findings.

Legal profession demographics

Overall, the data from the Report shows that the number of lawyers in the United States is increasing, but growth has slowed significantly ever since the 2008 recession. Over the past decade, 100,000 lawyers have joined the profession, resulting in a total of 1,327,910 active lawyers at the start of 2021. Not surprisingly, states with some of the largest cities have the most lawyers in 2021, including New York (185, 076), California (167, 709), Texas (93, 821), Florida (77, 223), and Illinois (62,720).

In keeping with earlier survey results, lawyers continue to be older overall than the average U.S worker. The median age for lawyers in 2020 was 47.1 years old, while the median age of all U.S. workers was 42.5.

Turning to gender, the percentage of women attorneys has increased slowly over the past decade from 33% in 2011 and to 37% in 2021.

This trend continues across many different categories, with slow growth being particularly evident when it comes to diversity in the legal profession.  According to the survey, change has been slow over the past decade:

  • In 2011 11.7% of lawyers were lawyers of color compared to 14.6% in 2021
  • In 2011 4.8% were Black compared to 4.7% in 2021
  • In 2011 3.9% were Hispanic compared to 2021 4.8% in 2021
  • In 2011 1.7% were Asian compared to 2.5% in 2021
  • In 2011 1% were Native American compared to 0.4% in 2021
  • In 2014 the number of mixed-race lawyers was close to zero and in 2021 it was at 2%

Finally, the percentage of LGBT lawyers rose slightly over the past decade from 1.9% in 2010 to 3.3% in 2021, and in 2021 only 0.88% of lawyers have disabilities according to the Report.

Wage data

Next, let’s take a look at lawyer wage trends. According to the Report, the average lawyer’s salary in 2020 was $148,910, while the median salary for first year associates was $165,000. Not surprisingly, associates in larger firms fared the best, and the highest median salary for first-year associates at firms with more than 700 lawyers was $190,000. In comparison, first-year associates from firms with 50 lawyers or less had a median salary of $85,000.

The average wage earned by judges, including magistrate judges and magistrates, was $131,850 in 2020. Paralegals and legal assistants earned significantly less than attorneys in 2020, with an average wage of $56,610.

Predictably, lawyers in larger cities often earned more than those who worked in smaller metropolitan areas. In keeping with that trend, lawyers from the following cities were in the top 10 for highest-paid metropolitan areas in the U.S.:  San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., New York City, Boston, Miami,

For comparison’s sake, it’s notable that the average lawyer wage for San Jose, California, which is the highest paid location in the U.S. was $231,610. That average wage is more than four times greater than the average wage of lawyers in the lowest-paid area, Arecibo, Puerto Rico, where lawyers earned $51,750 in 2020.

If your firm is planning to make new hires in the near future, keep these statistics in mind. By paying appropriate wages for your geographic region, you’ll ensure that your firm is able stay competitive and hire only the best talent.

Of course, there’s more to long-term success than effective hiring alone, especially during times of uncertainty. So if you’re not sure where to start, you’ll find lots of helpful advice on managing your firm effectively in the months to come in this FREE guide. Download it today: “Business Management for Law Firms During COVID-19: An Attorney’s Guide.”

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