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July 22, 2020

New ABA Profile of the Legal Profession report shines light on legal deserts, law school debt

CHICAGO, July 22, 2020 – The American Bar Association on July 28 will release its second annual Profile of the Legal Profession report, with new chapters on legal deserts in the United States and the human price of high law school debt.

The 2020 ABA Profile of the Legal Profession is a 147-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, judges, pro bono work, women in the profession, legal technology, lawyer well-being and lawyer discipline.

“The Profile of the Legal Profession is becoming a standard reference for anyone who wants to understand the legal profession — where it has been and where it is headed,” ABA President Judy Perry Martinez said. “Our profession is rapidly changing, especially in response to the pandemic and recession this year, and the greater acknowledgment of inequality in our justice system, so it’s more important than ever to get a snapshot of where we are today.”

This year, the Profile includes two new chapters:

Legal deserts – A 22-page section includes maps and charts showing the number of lawyers in every U.S. county and county equivalent – where lawyers are concentrated and the legal deserts where lawyers are scarce. Nearly every state has legal deserts. Among the findings:

  • Nationwide, there are four lawyers for every 1,000 residents, but there are large rural areas with few or no lawyers. Nearly 1,300 U.S. counties have fewer than one lawyer per 1,000 residents. (Page 2)
  • 52 U.S. counties have no lawyers. Another 182 counties have only one or two lawyers. (Page 2)

Law school debt – This summary of results from a new ABA survey provides insights into how law school debt affects the everyday lives of new lawyers, including decisions to marry, have children and buy a house. The survey was conducted by the ABA Young Lawyers Division and the ABA Media Relations & Strategic Communications Division. A full report will be released later this year. Among the findings:

  • Nearly half of new lawyers surveyed postponed or decided not to have children because of law school debt. (Page 24)
  • More than 1 in 4 new lawyers surveyed postponed or decided not to get married because of law school debt. (Page 25)

Among the many facts in the rest of the Profile report:

  • There are 1.3 million lawyers in the United States, and 1 in 4 are in just two states (New York and California). One in seven is a lawyer of color.
  • There are 112,000 law school students in the U.S. and a majority (53%) are women. In fact, women outnumber men 2-to-1 at four law schools. The number of women attending law school is rising while the number of men is falling.
  • Nearly half of all law school graduates take jobs at law firms after graduation, but 12% go to work for the government. Less than 1% start a solo practice.
  • 41% of law school deans are women. In 2000, it was 10%.
  • The racial diversity of the federal judiciary has decreased slightly since 2016, while gender diversity has grown slightly.
  • Nearly one-third of lawyers say their firm has a blog. One-quarter say their firm has suffered a computer security breach.

The complete ABA 2020 Profile of the Legal Profession will be available online at For more information, contact Marc Davis at [email protected].

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. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on Twitter @ABANews.