Lawyers in America

July 20, 1984

Report Outline
The Lawer Boom
Impact of Growth
Concern Over Costs
Legal Aid for Poor
Special Focus

The Lawer Boom

Opportunities, Problems Created by Expansion

Many sectors of the economy have stagnated over the past decade or so, but the practice of law has been a growth industry. Spurred by a number of factors—increased governmental regulation, expansion of civil rights protections, consumer and “public interest” activism, and rising crime rates among them—the demand for lawyers has shot up dramatically. And, lured by the prestige and high salaries that are trademarks of the legal profession, thousands of Americans have sought to fill that demand.

The American Bar Association (ABA) estimates that there are about 650,000 lawyers in the United States today, nearly double the number in 1970. On a per capita basis, the United States has 2 1/2 times as many lawyers as Britain, 5 times as many as West Germany, and 25 times as many as Japan. Many members of the legal profession say the public will benefit from the growth: the more lawyers there are, the more access people will have to them.

But some blame much of America's court case backlog on the numerous lawyers who, they say, have helped create an “overlitigious” society in which people file lawsuits at the least provocation. Other commentators, while not disparaging the lawyer's role in society, fear that too many of the nation's best minds are concentrated in the profession. Harvard University President Derek Bok wrote last year, for example, of a “massive diversion of exceptional talent into pursuits that often add little to the growth of the economy, the pursuit of culture or the enhancement of the human spirit.” Furthermore, there is widespread skepticism over claims that the rising number of lawyers has significantly increased access to the legal system. Despite greater competition for jobs and clients, lawyers' fees remain high—too high, according to many middle- and lower-income Americans.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Oct. 07, 2011  Legal-Aid Crisis
Apr. 18, 2008  Public Defenders
Nov. 09, 2007  Prosecutors and the Law
May 22, 1992  Too Many Lawsuits?
Jul. 20, 1984  Lawyers in America
Aug. 02, 1972  Legal Profession in Transition
Feb. 27, 1963  Public Defenders
Legal Professions and Resources