ABA Legal Profession Report Part 1: Wages, Pro Bono Work, and Mental Health
New York Bar Association New AI Guidance: Part 1

ABA Legal Profession Report Part 2: Demographics and Technology

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 2: Demographics and Technology

If you ask a generative artificial intelligence (AI) tool to provide a picture of lawyers, judges, or law students you’ll likely find the image produced will include groups of white men, with very few women or people of color. This is because the data these tools rely on includes the entirety of the internet, which necessarily reflects the biases of our culture.

However, these AI biases do not capture the significant demographic shifts our profession has seen in recent decades. Caucasian men are no longer the majority in law schools, with more women and people of color graduating than ever before. 

Despite these advances, data from the 2023 ABA Legal Profession Report reveals that men still dominate law firms’ upper ranks, mirroring AI-generated stereotypes.

In addition to demographic data, the report also includes notable statistics on technology adoption in the legal industry. Like lawyer demographics, change is occurring, but not as quickly as desired. 

I'll discuss key findings below, which illustrate that shifts in demographics and technology signal a profession in flux.

According to the report, there were 1,331,290 active lawyers last year, marking a 5% increase over the past decade. A substantial number of those lawyers (27%) were found in two states: New York (188,341) and California (170,959). Only 39% of lawyers were women, up from 24% in 2013. The median age was 46 years.

During that same timeframe, the percentage of lawyers of color nearly doubled in the past decade, increasing from 11% to 21%. 

The makeup of judges was similar. Sitting federal judges were predominantly male (68%) and white (76%). In state high courts, only 20% percent of justices were people of color (compared to 40% of the general population), and 58% were men (compared to 50% of the population).

Turning to the technology data, adoption rates are slower in some cases. For example, smart assistants like Amazon’s Alexa are rarely used by lawyers, with only 9% reporting usage, and 3% doing so regularly. Similarly, only 8% of lawyers shared that they had a virtual law practice.

However, social media usage, once frowned upon, has become commonplace. The vast majority of law firms (89%) now have a social media presence. Not surprisingly, the most popular social media network was LinkedIn at 87% followed by Facebook at 62%. X, formerly Twitter, ranked low with 38% of firms using it, as did Martindale (37%).

Individual usage followed suit, with 82% of lawyers reporting they interacted on social media platforms for professional purposes. LinkedIn ranked first with 96% using it, followed by Facebook (31%) and X (20%).

Another notable statistic was that the majority of lawyers now use laptops as their primary computer. 56% reported using laptops in 2022, up from 53% in 2021. Windows was the preferred operating system with 83% of lawyers using it. A mere 6% of lawyers reported that they used Mac operating systems. 

Legal research was one of the main things lawyers used computers for, with lawyers spending 18% of their time conducting research. Westlaw/Westlaw Edge was the most popular platform (69%). Lexis/Lexis+ was next at 42%. The top free legal research sites were government websites (63%), FindLaw (56%), and Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (54%).

Finally, there is a clear smartphone brand preference in our profession, with 80% of lawyers sharing that they use iPhones. 

The 2023 ABA Legal Profession Report evinces a profession in the midst of significant change, both demographically and technologically. Despite the notable trend toward greater diversity in law schools, our profession nevertheless remains top-heavy with white men. 

On the technology front, the legal industry is embracing change at a predictably cautious pace, with increasing adoption of more familiar technologies like social media and mobile devices. 

These developments, while sometimes frustratingly slow-paced, signal a complex but progressive path toward a more inclusive and technologically adept legal profession. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, the pace of change will increase, resulting in more diverse and tech-savvy lawyers.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Head of SME and External Education at MyCase legal practice management software and LawPay payment processing, AffiniPay companies. 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].