Lawyer Demographics

Like it has in each of the past six years, the New Jersey Law Journal again published its annual Legal Almanac this year. The Legal Almanac attempts to sum up the condition of the state’s legal profession each year. This year, the Law Journal described the state of New Jersey’s legal profession in four words: “Yes, it’s bad, but… .” The recession has put a heavy financial strain on many firms. Lay-offs and delayed hiring is rampent at many firms.

There is a great deal of information in the Legal Almanac. Unfortunately, much of it is provided in statisitcal format and quite boring, but I found some interesting bits. For example, did you know that, as of March 2009, there were a total of 89,089 attorneys admitted to practice law in New Jersey? That means that, on a per capita basis, New Jersey has 1 lawyer for every 854 residents. As a result, New Jersey has one of the highest concentrations of lawyers in the nation. You might say that we in New Jersey are overlawyered. Or, you might not.

According to the Legal Almanac, about 40.4%, or 34,381 of the lawyers practicing in New Jersey work in private practice. Further, about 44% of New Jersey lawyers are also admitted in New York. Surprisingly, 116 New Jersey lawyers are also admitted in Louisiana. Who knew?

New Jersey is dominated by very small law firms. Solo practices make up astounding 74.2% of the law firms in the state; firms of two attorneys, 11.5%; and firms of three to five attorneys, 8.8%. Thus, the overwhelming number of attorneys in private practice in New Jersey, about 94.5%, work in law firms of 5 attorneys or less. Just a handful of law firms in New Jersey, comprising about 5.5% of the total, are made up of more than 5 lawyers.

I found one other fact in the Legal Almanac to be quite interesting. The Almanac contained a list of the judicial opinions which were most requested by attorneys in the State. As expected, the most highly requested opinions were concentrated in the areas of personal injury and medical malpractice, in which large awards of money damages were recovered. Interestingly, however, one of the most requested judicial opinions was the unpublished decision in Betancourt v. Trinitas Regional Medical Hospital, which didn’t involve any award of money damages at all. Rather, in the Betancourt case, Judge John Malone, the Chancery Judge in Union County, found that the decision to continue or terminate life support was not for the courts to decide. Instead, Judge Malone appointed a 73 year old comatose patient’s daughter as his guardian and granted her petition to restrain defendant Hospital from discontinuing or suspending life-supporting treatment. I previously blogged about the Betancourt case here.

The Legal Almanac can be found on the New Jersey Law Journal website, here.