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How the Pandemic has Affected Lawyers

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The American Bar Association recently released its third annual “Profile of the Legal Profession” report, with a new chapter on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected lawyers.

The 2021 ABA Profile of the Legal Profession is a 140-page compilation of statistics and trends among lawyers, judges and law students, gathered from within the ABA and from courts, the federal government and nonprofits. The report includes sections on demographics, wages, law schools and law students, student debt, judges, pro bono work, legal deserts, women in the profession, legal technology, lawyer well-being and lawyer discipline.

“The 2021 Profile is a comprehensive, authoritative reference for lawyers, academics, journalists and the public,” said ABA President Patricia Lee Refo. “This year’s additional material reveals in detail the profound impact of the pandemic on the legal profession.” This year, the Profile report includes findings on how the pandemic affected many subsets of lawyers, including older lawyers, female lawyers, big-firm lawyers and solo practitioners. The findings are from the ABA Practice Forward survey of more than 4,000 ABA members in fall 2020 and a follow-up survey in March 2021 of 1,300 older lawyers by the Media Relations and Strategic Communications Division and the Senior Lawyers Division. Among the findings:

• One-third of lawyers age 62 and older changed their retirement plans because of the pandemic. Among those who did so, roughly half (53%) delayed retirement and half (47%) moved up retirement.

• More than half of lawyers in firms of 250 attorneys or larger reported that they worried more about pay cuts over the past year than they did the year before. Many also worried about layoffs and furloughs.

• Among the same big-firm lawyers, 71% reported that they were concerned that returning to the office might be unsafe, but nearly a third (29%) also said they were worried about reporting their health and safety concerns to their employer.

• Three times as many female lawyers took on additional child care responsibilities during the pandemic as male lawyers. Perhaps, as a result, more women than men reported experiencing stress about work during the pandemic (52% versus 34%) and feeling overwhelmed (60% versus 38%). The Profile report also includes updated statistics and analyses on a number of other issues including racial, ethnic and gender diversity in the profession, legal technology, law schools, judges and attorney well-being. Among the many facts in the rest of the Profile report:

• There are 1.3 million lawyers in the United States. One-fourth of them are in two states (New York and California). One out of seven is a lawyer of color. Roughly one-third of all lawyers (37%) are women.

• Lawyers are, on average, older than the general working population: 14% of all lawyers are age 65 or older. That’s double the percentage for the nation’s general working population.

• For the 10th year in a row, the number of men attending law school declined. But for the fourth year in a row, the number of women attending law school rose.

• There are 114,000 law school students in the U.S. and a majority (54%) are women. In fact, there are 25 law schools where women are 60% or more of the student body. There are no law schools where men are 60% of the student body.

• Nearly half of all law school graduates take jobs at law firms after graduation, but 10% go to work for the government. Less than 1% start a solo practice.

• Nearly 80% of all federal judges are white. That’s virtually unchanged since 2016. On the state level, 83% of all justices on the state’s highest courts are white, and 62% are men.

• More than a quarter of all lawyers (29%) say their firm has suffered a security breach and more than a third (36%) say their firm has cyber liability insurance. Nearly half of all lawyers (49%) still use a desktop computer as their primary work computer, rather than a laptop.

You can download a PDF copy of the 2021 ABA Profile of the Legal Profession at ambar.org/profile, or view the report on an interactive website at www.abalegalprofile.com.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. Follow the latest ABA news a www.americanbar.org/news and on Twitter @ABANews.


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