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ABA Legal Profession Report Part 2: Demographics and Technology

ABA Legal Profession Report Part 1: Wages, Pro Bono Work, and Mental Health

Stacked3Here is my recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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ABA Legal Profession Report Part 1: Wages, Pro Bono Work, and Mental Health

The legal profession is in the midst of significant change, with technological advancement driving much of it. Firms are becoming more efficient, impacting the structure of law firms, the day-to-day work performed, and even the pricing of legal services. The shifting landscape presents challenges that can make acclimation to rapid change difficult in the absence of perspective.

That’s where the 2023 American Bar Association Profile of the Legal Profession Report comes in. Released at the end of 2023, it offers a deep dive into key data points about the legal profession including demographics, technology usage, and lawyer well-being, 

I plan to cover some of the most interesting findings in this 2-part series. In today’s article, statistics about earnings, pro bono services, and mental health will be examined while notable demographics and technology findings will be explored in Part 2.

Now let’s dive into the data, starting with attorney wages. Overall, salary increases in recent years have occurred at respectable, albeit varying, rates, which were largely dependent on a lawyer’s position within a firm and the industry overall.

According to the report, the average wage was $163,770 in 2022. Notably, during the twenty years leading up to 2022, salaries increased by 55%, a slightly lower rate than inflation, which increased by 59%.

First-year associates have fared well, with the last two years seeing a 21% wage increase of $35,000. The average salary rose from $165,000 in 2021 to $200,000 in 2023. Not surprisingly, entry-level lawyers in private firms fared far better salary-wise than those in public service, earning a median salary of $200,000 compared to the $57,500 to $63,000 earned by public service attorneys.

Unfortunately, many young attorneys are also saddled with significant educational debt. The data showed the average student loan debt amounted to $120,000 for education expenses related to law school and undergraduate education.

Moving on to pro bono data, we learned that 52% of attorneys provided pro bono services during the previous year, and on average worked 37 hours. The most common practice areas were family law, criminal law, litigation, estate planning or probate, and real estate. The tasks most likely to be performed ran the gamut and included providing advice (74%), reviewing or drafting documents (66%), interviewing clients (64%), writing letters (36%), working with other attorneys (35%), providing full representation in court (29%) and settlement negotiation(18%).

Finally, let’s take a look at the mental health statistics from the report, which were illuminating and troubling. One concerning trend evinced was that 8.5% of lawyers think about suicide compared to 4.3% of the general population. This percentage increases as age decreases, with over 14% of junior associates reporting suicidal thoughts compared to 7% of senior associates, 8% of junior partners, 6% of senior partners, and 7% of managing partners.

Gender also impacted the mental health data, with 9.1% of men and 7.8% of women lawyers having suicidal ideations. Notably, however, women were also more likely to report feelings of severe or moderate stress (67% vs. 49%), anxiety (23% vs. 15%), and depression (20% vs.15%) than their male counterparts. 

The report also highlighted the high incidence of sexual harassment and assault experienced by women attorneys, with 50% sharing they’d experienced unwanted sexual conduct in the workplace. One-quarter of women shared that they feared retaliation and thus failed to report the unwanted contact, and another 16% lost work opportunities after declining sexual advances.

Given these data points, it’s not at all surprising to learn that women lawyers were more likely to partake in hazardous drinking (34% vs. 25%) and were also more likely to consider leaving the profession because of the negative mental health effects experienced (24% vs. 17%).

From the wage, pro bono, and mental health data, it’s clear that practicing law has many benefits, and many drawbacks as well. The mental health statistics are particularly troubling and highlight key areas that need to be addressed. Tackling these issues will be challenging given the many other changes occurring in our profession, some of which I’ll cover in my next article, that have the potential to dramatically impact the practice of law. 

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Head of SME and External Education at MyCase legal practice management software, an AffiniPay company. She is the nationally-recognized author of "Cloud Computing for Lawyers" (2012) and co-authors "Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier" (2010), both published by the American Bar Association. She also co-authors "Criminal Law in New York," a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for Above the Law, ABA Journal, and The Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. She is an ABA Legal Rebel, and is listed on the Fastcase 50 and ABA LTRC Women in Legal Tech. She can be contacted at [email protected].