How Many Attorneys Are in the United States?

The legal profession is a vital part of society in the United States. Attorneys assist individuals and businesses in navigating the complex legal system. They protect rights, resolve disputes, and ensure the fair administration of justice. Given the central role attorneys play in access to justice and representation, it is important to understand the scope of the legal profession. How many licensed attorneys currently practice in the United States? What factors influence the supply of lawyers? How does the number impact issues like legal fees and geographic distribution? This article will explore the latest statistics and trends related to the size of the legal profession in America.

Brief Overview of the Legal Profession

The legal profession refers to individuals who are qualified to practice law. This includes providing legal advice and representation for clients. In the United States, this requires completing law school, passing the bar exam, and being licensed to practice in a particular jurisdiction. Lawyers work in many settings from private law firms to corporations to the government. Their work involves tasks like researching statutes, regulations, and case law, drafting legal documents, negotiating deals, and representing clients in court. The American Bar Association (ABA) serves as the largest voluntary association of attorneys in the country. According to ABA estimates, there were 1.34 million active attorneys in the U.S. in 2021.

Importance of Data on Number of Attorneys

Having accurate statistics on the number of licensed attorneys in the country provides useful insights for the legal community, policymakers, and the general public. The data indicates the capacity to provide legal services to businesses and individuals across jurisdictions. Tracking the supply of lawyers over time reveals trends related to interest in law school, bar exam passage, retirements, career longevity, and other factors that influence the pipeline. Large declines could signal problems ahead in meeting legal needs.

Meanwhile, a glut of lawyers raises questions about competitive pressures and the income prospects for new attorneys. The geographic distribution also impacts access to justice based on attorney-to-population ratios in rural versus urban areas. In summary, monitoring the robustness of the legal profession has implications for legal education, job markets, pro bono services, legal fees, and the strength of the industry overall.

Current Statistics on Number of Practicing Attorneys

The most recent data from the American Bar Association (ABA) estimates that there are 1,352,027 licensed, practicing attorneys in the United States as of 2021. This figure includes both active and inactive attorneys permitted to provide legal services.

Compared to the past decade, the number of attorneys has continued to grow steadily:

  • 2010: 1,180,386 attorneys
  • 2015: 1,281,432 attorneys
  • 2020: 1,327,812 attorneys

State bar associations report figures on the number of active attorneys licensed in their jurisdictions. The ABA aggregates this data to calculate the nationwide total.

State bar associations and other licensing authorities also compile more detailed data on the number of active attorneys within their jurisdictions. For example, New York has the most attorneys among U.S. states with over 200,000. Meanwhile, California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia all have over 50,000 practicing lawyers as of 2021. At the lower end, states like Alaska, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming each have around 2,000 attorneys or fewer. Attorney density figures calculated based on state populations reveal that New York, Massachusetts, and Washington D.C. have among the most lawyers per capita.

Current Statistics on Number of Practicing Attorneys

Factors Influencing the Number of Attorneys

Several key factors affect the supply of attorneys entering and leaving the legal profession each year:

  • Law School Graduates: ABA accredited law schools graduate around 34,000-37,000 JDs per year. This number peaked at 44,004 in 2013 but has since declined. Fewer applications and lower enrollment rates have reduced the law school pipeline in recent years.
  • Bar Exam Pass Rates: Passing the bar exam is required for law graduates to be licensed. Pass rates vary by state with averages typically between 60-80%. Higher failure rates restrict new entries to the profession. Some states are considering reforms like lowering the score threshold.
  • Retirement Rates: Attrition from retirement or switching careers also affects the number of practicing attorneys. The ABA estimates around 3-4% retire annually after averaging 30 years in the profession. However, many lawyers now work past the traditional retirement age.
  • Career Longevity: The average span of legal careers is increasing as lawyers delay retirement. More experienced senior attorneys strengthen the profession. However, growth stagnates if younger lawyers leave due to high debt or work-life balance issues.
  • Distribution of Lawyers: The supply of attorneys concentrates in urban areas and legal hubs like New York, D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles. Rural areas often suffer from attorney shortages. State reciprocity agreements that ease cross-border practices help alleviate geographic disparities.

Implications of the Number of Attorneys

The size and composition of the legal profession have several important implications:

  • Access to Legal Services: The number of available attorneys affects the public’s ability to obtain representation and legal advice. Attorney shortages in areas like rural Minnesota make access inequitable. Overall, the supply is considered sufficient in most jurisdictions to meet demand.
  • Quality and Cost of Services: The oversupply of lawyers can benefit consumers through more competitive pricing. However, it may also discourage pro bono work and facilitate aggressive advertising tactics. Market saturation pressures firms to reduce new hires and overhead.
  • Specialization: As the attorney population grows, lawyers can specialize in niche practice areas. Developing expertise improves the quality of services. Although, general practitioners are still needed, especially where fewer lawyers practice.
  • Competition and Fees: More attorneys competing for clients and business can drive down prices. However, excess capacity also lowers incomes per lawyer, which paradoxically motivates some to raise rates to compensate. Advertising and marketing costs also increase in competitive markets.
  • Career Satisfaction: Surveys show career dissatisfaction and stress are common complaints among U.S. attorneys due to long hours and high caseloads. These pressures could be alleviated if the supply of lawyers declined or if firms provided more work-life balance.

Challenges Facing the Legal Profession

Despite the overall robust size of the bar, the legal profession faces some challenges to ensure attorney numbers keep pace with society’s evolving legal needs:

  • Addressing Shortages: Policies to incentivize practicing in underserved rural areas are needed. Also, support is required to improve law school affordability and bar exam pass rates among lower-income students to increase diversity.
  • Adapting to Technology: As legal tech, automation, and AI take over some traditional tasks, lawyers may see decreased demand. New practice areas focused on tech applications can offset the impact.
  • Improving Diversity: Although women represent over a third of lawyers, the profession lacks diversity in areas like race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. A more representative bar would build trust and improve access.
  • Developing Specialties: As legal issues become more complex, generalized lawyers may not provide the highest level of service. Growth in specialized attorneys should be encouraged through training programs and recruiting.
  • Addressing Unsustainable Business Models: The profession’s billable hour model often demands long, rigid hours that contribute to dissatisfaction. Innovations like flexible schedules, remote work, and staffing ratio changes could help.

Future Outlook for the Legal Profession

Predicting the future size and composition of the legal profession in America requires weighing trends in legal education, bar admissions, retirements, technology, demand shifts, and other areas:

  • Modest Growth Overall: Total attorney numbers will likely continue growing moderately at 1-2% per year over the next decade keeping pace with population increases. Diversity and specialization will expand.
  • Geographic Imbalances: Urban coastal cities will still attract the most lawyers per capita. Programs to mitigate rural shortages will help but not eliminate disparities.
  • Technology Disruption: Automation will handle more routine legal tasks. The overall human lawyer population however is unlikely to shrink but may see slowing growth. New tech-focused practice areas will offset declines in fields like document review.
  • Reforms to Legal Education: To address costs and inclusivity issues, experiential online JD programs and apprenticeship alternatives to law school may increase. However, overall graduation numbers may fall slightly.
  • Generational Shifts: As baby boomers retire, generational differences in values-driven Millennials and Gen Z lawyers will bring expectations for greater work-life balance and more hands-on, socially conscious work.


The size of America’s legal profession reflects the nation’s immense body of complex laws and large industry focused on navigating the system. Tracking attorney numbers and density reveals trends related to legal education pipelines, geographic distribution, diversity, career spans, and demand shifts for services. The data indicates gradual ongoing growth overall, but also lingering challenges around rural access, affordability, technology adaptation, and career satisfaction. As the practice of law evolves, the ABA, state bars, law schools, firms, and individual attorneys must all play a role in shaping the profession to serve society’s legal needs now and in the future.