Volume 18, Number 1
Just the Facts
What Demographics Tell Us about the Future of Our Profession and Our Clients
By Annemarie Micklo
You have probably heard several of the following statistics before. And you may even be tired of hearing them again. Nevertheless, they are not about to go away anytime soon. As the millennium marches on to progress, the legal profession is sometimes hindered by the limp of discernable shame it carries with regard to those who are "different" from patrician white males in traditional pinstriped suits.
America is changing. The following article contrasts a random selection of current facts about law practice with a variety of population predictions for the next ten-plus years. The reality of your law practice today and for the next ten years is likely to exist somewhere in the middle of any facts and figures. It is a reality in which your choices can keep you in step with the coming changes if you plan and modify now.
Legal Profession Struggles with Minority Representation
The current health of the law profession concerns many practitioners. Minority representation in the legal profession is significantly lower than in most other professions: about 10 percent. (The only profession with lower levels of minority representation is dentists—4.8 percent.)
Despite mandates and initiatives by the ABA and other law-related organizations, minority entry into the profession has slowed considerably since 1995. Enrollment of minorities in law schools peaked in 1995; since then, enrollment has increased only 0.4 percent—the smallest five-year increase in 20 years. In 1999, the total number of minority law graduates actually dropped for the first time since 1985.
The distribution of minority lawyers in the profession differs significantly from that of whites. In 1998, 49.5 percent of minority graduates entered private practice, compared with 57.1 percent of whites. African Americans in particular are less likely to enter private practice; Asian Americans are the most likely (and fastest growing segment).
Minority women lawyers are especially likely to work in government and public service. In 1998, 23.6 percent of minority females entered these fields, compared with 18.9 percent of minority men and 15.2 percent of whites.
Minority representation among law partners remains less than 3 percent in most cities, and among general counsel in the Fortune 500 currently, there are 2.8 percent. There is one minority female general counsel in the Fortune 500. Currently, there are six minority female appellate judges and two minority female law school deans.
Average pay for men (reported from an ABA Journal survey conducted in the spring of 2000) was $155,000; average time in practice was 17.6 years. The averages for women were $113,000 and 12.4 years. Salaries in general are substantially (about one-third) lower for women, minority men, and openly gay and lesbian attorneys.
Law firm attrition rates for minority women are higher than for any other group. Nearly 12.1 percent leave firm practice within their first year, and more than 85 percent leave by their seventh year.
All of this, despite a recent study of University of Michigan Law School study that showed minority graduates are admitted to the bar at about the same rate as whites. Plus, the percentage of women entering law school reached more than 50 percent for the first time with the 2000-01 class.
"When one considers the world from such a compressed
perspective, the need for acceptance, understanding, and education becomes glaringly apparent."—Philip M. Harter, Stanford University
If we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same, the village would look something like this:
6 people would possess
59 percent of the world’s wealth;
14 from the Western Hemisphere, both North and South
all 6 would be from the United States
80 would live in substandard housing
70 would be illiterate
50 would suffer from malnutrition
1 would be near death;
1 would be near birth
1 would have a college education
1 would own a computer
Source: American Bar Association
Resource Guide, July 2000.
Understanding the Client Base
Clearly, there is much that needs to change. However, both the profession and individual practitioners are part of a larger development in the population as a whole. From 1804, when the world population passed the 1 billion mark, it took 123 years to reach 2 billion people in 1927, 33 years to reach 3 billion in 1960, 14 years to reach 4 billion in 1974, 13 years for 5 billion in 1987, and 12 years to reach 6 billion in 1999.
One important area affecting the future of law practice that has been relatively ignored by pollsters and predictions concerns the clients who make practice possible. The millennium arrived without any sign of interstellar residents jet-paking down to Earth for a quick consult during Universal Court sessions, so the basic makeup of the planet isn’t changing dramatically.
But earthlings will continue to emigrate and immigrate; age; seek spiritual meaning and direction; have sex; relocate; commit crimes; sell property; marry, remarry, and intermarry; buy goods and services; go to school; lose money; produce children; become ill or suffer a disability; and fall in and out of love. Any one or all of these basic human processes can at some point involve the need for legal services or advice.
As the last decade showed, however, the market for law services is no longer solely the domain of lawyers; education and information have given the public self-empowered options like do-it-yourself divorce and, increasingly, self-representation in trials. In addition, the profession has seen encroachments upon what was formerly sanctioned legal territory: alternative dispute resolution, for example, and the specters of multidisciplinary and multijurisdictional practice.
Almost as if by a process of natural balance, new areas of law practice also developed during this last decade. Changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act have benefited many but also have generated interpretive and legal difficulties for employers and employees, as have stronger laws against discrimination and harassment. Intellectual property law is already facing head-on the patenting of methods and ideas, many of which didn’t exist even five years ago. And laws governing the Internet and e-businesses, like the technologies that make them possible, seem to change and develop on a daily basis.
Driving each of these factors, however, is ultimately the client—and all the potential clients who constitute a population. Even the megaliths reduce down to chairpersons and CEOs who become, with everyone else, a number in someone’s database or census. The first decade of the millennium is expected to produce notable demographic changes that will affect the United States more dramatically, more frequently, and more quickly than any population has been affected before.
One fact that has carried over from the nineties is that competition for clients, whether individuals or conglomerates, has increased and will continue to do so. Starting now to familiarize yourself with changes to the client base of the future can help you tailor your practice to accommodate anticipated client needs.
Location, location, location. To no one’s surprise, all states will have more people, especially in the South and West, continuing trends already apparent in the late nineties, when the mountain states began their gains. (In contrast, the District of Columbia during the same time experienced the greatest percentage of population loss.)
California, Texas, and Florida will continue to be the poster children for change; net population change (births minus deaths plus migration) will be most evident these states—each of which will gain more than 6 million people by 2025. In fact, the three states will account for a full 45 percent of population change in the United States during this time. (Just to boggle your mind with at least one unexpected fact: California is expected to grow faster during this century than it did in the last—its increase alone equaling the current population of New York State!) Georgia, at number 4, is expected to grow by approximately 2.7 million people, with Washington State, Arizona, North Carolina, Virginia, New York, and New Jersey rounding out the top ten.
When changes are considered in terms of fastest growth rather than total, a fairly different picture emerges. Even though New Mexico and Hawaii appear well down the list for total growth, they rank 2 and 3 in terms of fastest growth between 1995 and 2025 (with New Mexico being edged out by California for the top spot by a mere percentage point). If you’re interested in locating your practice where the action will be focused, consider the previous three or the following in the speed-of-growth top ten: Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arkansas, and the ubiquitous Florida and Texas.
Age. We are, overall, an aging country. Exact determinations of the year when one is officially defined as "aging," however, vary. Government statistics estimate that nearly 15 percent of the population is age 65 and older; by 2030, this figure will increase to 20 percent.
At a recent symposium at New Mexico’s Ghost Ranch Center on the impact of aging Baby Boomers on our culture, participants who had once vowed not to trust anyone over 30 cheered when it was announced that people over 50 would become a majority in the United States by 2050. For lawyers, this impact will be felt in the surge of elder law practice, a developing field concerned with rights, care, health issues, and retirement planning.
Boomers currently account for 38 percent of the population. Almost no generation has had as widespread an impact on social and economic changes, and their force is expected to continue as they reach their 50s and 60s in the next ten years.
For the population as a whole, this will mean fewer households with children under 18 living at home. Currently, slightly more than half of American families meet this statistic; by 2010, three out of five families may have no children under 18 present.
The number of married couples with no children is expected to grow by 7 million—all of it among the over-45 empty-nester Boomers. In addition, the number of single-person households will increase. Currently, nearly one-quarter of households are maintained by a person living alone. This figure is projected to increase to 31 million by 2010.
The number of two-parent families is expected to decrease slightly; one in five households in 2010 will contain a mother, father, and child(ren) under 18, compared with the current one in four. Other families with children (those without a spouse present) will increase slightly, from 8 to 9 million, and continue to represent 8 percent of all households.
Naturally, people will continue to form and reform households. The divorce rate in 1999 was half the rate for marriages in the same year, and both statistics are expected to remain high.
Gender. The number of females in the United States continues to outstrip the total of males; latest data show nearly 141 million women and 135 million men. The only age groups for which this statistic consistently reverses are males 14 to 24 and 25 to 44, and this is expected to remain accurate through 2025.
Why gender is increasingly important to professionals marketing goods and services to the general population can be seen by a report in American Demographics magazine (May 2000). Of the estimated 35.5 million women with children in the country, more than two-thirds (24.1 million) work either part or full time. Nevertheless, the magazine estimates that women in this category alone control nearly 85 percent of the country’s household income: $3.5 trillion a year. (As a bonus fact, the magazine went on to highlight the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, which has the highest nationwide concentration of working moms in its seven surrounding counties.)
As of 1999, women-owned businesses accounted for about a third of all U.S. firms, according to an article in the September 2000 issue of the ABA Journal. Firms owned by women of color are growing three times faster than the overall rate of business growth—there are 1 million minority women-owned businesses, with nearly 1.7 million employees, generating more than $184 billion in sales. For the solo or small-firm practitioner whose business depends on private or small-business clients, women clients will require an increasing variety of services, both personal and professional.
Race and ethnicity. One of the most quoted population statistics that came out of the millennial hoopla last winter was the prediction from the U.S. Census Bureau that Hispanics will make up the majority of the country’s population by 2050. (The particulars have subsequently been mangled, with the target date ranging between 2045 and 2075 and the percentage of Hispanics varying from 50 to 65 percent. The basic fact, however—the eventual shift from a majority-white country to a majority-brown one—remains constant.)
For all the noise the statistic generated, a Washington Post poll conducted a few years ago showed that the majority of whites surveyed already overestimate the numbers of blacks, Hispanics, and Asians in the U.S. population. Many believed that America was already a country in which whites had become the minority. This is far from accurate. Minorities as a whole make up between one-quarter and one-third of the total population.
By 2005, Hispanics will make up 13.3 percent of the U.S. population (38.2 million), and by 2015, 15.8 percent (49.3 million people). Asians and Pacific Islanders will comprise 4.6 percent by 2025 (somewhat over 11 million—a rise of only .5 percent from 2000). The following 10 years will continue the growth, so that by 2015 this group will number approximately 17.4 million, or 5.6 percent of total population. Blacks and African Americans currently make up the majority minority, about 33.5 million, but they will be eclipsed by growth rates for Hispanic and Asian-Pacific Islander immigrants. The country’s white population is at one of its slowest growth rates ever, a mere 7 percent during the past decade, but total white population currently numbers 196.7 million.
Americans in general are not known for bilingual abilities—and in some areas of the country, not for tolerance of other languages, either. To accommodate certain specific portions of the country’s future population, however, lawyers may want to add a Berlitz course or two to goals for the new decade. At the very least, and especially for practitioners in areas with established ethnic populations, consider language abilities when hiring staff and associates. Due to the expected increase in competition for legal clients, "thinking outside the box" will become as firmly established in traditional professions as it has already become in technology industries. It would take several years to become really fluent in a foreign language, wouldn’t it? Absolutely. But how many Spanish-speaking potential clients, for example, will have settled in your town while you were out golfing?
Religion. The most current survey of religious affiliation is a 2000 Harris poll conducted among registered voters selected at random. The poll substantiates that the United States is overwhelmingly Christian, at just more than 71 percent of those surveyed; those identifying as Jewish totaled 2.3 percent (see figure 1).
Figure 1: Religious Affiliation, 2000 Harris Poll
Number of respondents
Percent of respondents
* Total percent of respondents does not equal 100.
The poll reports that the number of self-identified agnostics or atheists, 7.1 percent, may be skewed upward because the study was conducted via the Internet (a note to the poll acknowledges that this limited survey base may have inadvertently polled a higher number of atheists/agnostics than other population samples). The nation’s third largest major religion, Islam, is smaller than about 15 of the largest Christian denominations.
The most comprehensive poll remains a 1990 study, the National Survey of Religious Identification (NSRI), conducted by the Graduate School of the City University of New York, commonly referred to as the Kosmin study. It includes U.S. figures for many of the world’s religions that are not accounted for in the Harris study (see figure 2).
Figure 2: Religious Affiliation, 1990 NSRI Poll
Number of respondents
Percent of respondents
* Total percent of respondents does not equal 100.
Annemarie Micklo is a freelance writer in Chicago, Illinois.
Figures quoted in this article are taken from the following sources:
• U.S. Census Bureau, The Official Statistics™
• U.S. Department of Commerce
• U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
• Roberta Bransten, "Food for Thought," American Demographics, May 2000, at 39
• Clarence Page, "America is going beige," Chicago Tribune, Sept. 10, 2000, at 23
• Adherents.com (www.adherents.com)
• Elizabeth Chambliss, Miles to Go 2000, American Bar Association
• American Bar Association Resource Guide, July 2000