A Closer Look at Colorado’s Legal Profession

While there’s no shortage of reports looking at attorney satisfaction nationally, the inaugural State of the Law Firm survey took a closer look at how Colorado lawyers feel about their jobs in hopes of better informing law firms as they tackle recruitment and retention rates. 

For our first State of the Law Firm survey, Law Week partnered with Gene Commander Inc. to collect responses from 133 actively practicing lawyers in Colorado. The survey asked questions about demographics, professional experience and positions, job satisfaction, plans to find new jobs, work-life balance, office policies and more. Responses were anonymous. 

While the legal industry has taken steps toward becoming more inclusive, the State of the Law Firm survey found women in the law were more likely to report negative perceptions of their workplace. The survey also found one in four Colorado lawyers are planning to leave their current job in the next three years. Of the lawyers who said they planned to leave sometime soon, a larger percentage identified LGBTQ+ than the overall group. 

Looking locally, the State of the Law Firm survey is a tool for understanding how law firms can meet lawyer needs to improve turnover and retention rates. 

Demographics at a Glance 

Around 51.5% of respondents identified as women and 48.5% as men. The majority of respondents, 84%, identified as white, with 6% identifying as Hispanic or Latino, 3.7% identifying as another race or multiple races or ethnicities, 3% identifying as Black or African American, 1.5% identifying as Asian or Asian American, 0.75% identifying as Native American or indigenous and less than 1% declined to answer. 

That breakdown lines up closely with the latest demographic data from the 2022 annual Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel report that found 48.95% of Colorado lawyers were women, 50.3% were men and 84.68% were white. 

The median age of respondents from the State of the Law Firm survey was in the 40-49 years old category, with lawyers who were 29 or younger making up 6% of responses, 30-39 representing 26.1%, 40-49 accounting for 23.9%, 50-59 representing 24.6%, 60-69 being at 14.9% and attorneys 70 years or older representing 4.5%. The responses skewed slightly younger than the age distribution for practicing lawyers reported by OARC. 

While the latest data from OARC found a growing number of licensed attorneys are based out of state (between 16-18.6%), the vast majority of respondents (97%) to the State of the Law Firm Survey reported living and working in Colorado with two respondents saying they don’t live in Colorado and two saying they are in Colorado part-time. 

Job Satisfaction by Gender

The State of the Law Firm survey asked a number of questions to gauge how attorneys perceive their workplace. Those questions asked lawyers to select if they strongly agreed, agreed, neither agreed nor disagreed, disagreed or strongly disagreed to certain statements. 

Overall, lawyers reported mostly positive perceptions of their firms but for certain questions, gender appeared to impact how lawyers responded.  

When asked if they felt a strong sense of belonging at their firm, 79.1% of respondents said they agreed or strongly agreed. Just 13.4% of respondents felt neutral about the statement and 7.5% disagreed with it. Women were slightly more likely to respond to the question negatively or neutrally than men. 

While over half of the total respondents, 51.1%, said they felt their firm had made a significant commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion, gender appeared to impact how lawyers felt about the statement. Of the men who answered the question, 58.5% agreed with the statement, 21.5% felt neutral about it and 20% disagreed with it. In comparison, of the women who responded to the question, only 44.1% agreed with the statement, 25% felt neutral and 30.9% disagreed. 

Gender also appeared to impact how lawyers viewed work-life balance offered by their employers. When asked if they felt attorneys at their firm could have a reasonable work-life balance and adequately attend to family needs, the percentage of women to give neutral or negative responses was higher compared to men. Of the men who answered the question, 83% either agreed or strongly agreed with it, 6.2% feel neutral about it and 10.8% disagreed with it. In comparison, of the women who answered the question, 69.6% agreed with the statement, 15.9 felt neutral about it and 14.5% disagreed or strongly disagreed. Despite that response, men (40%) who responded to the survey were slightly more likely than women (36.2%) to report having a child under the age of 18 living at home. 

Women were also more likely to respond affirmatively (20.3%) when asked if they had concerns they would be perceived as less competent based on their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability status compared to men (4.6%). 

Results from the State of the Law Firm survey are in-line with 2021 findings from the American Bar Association that women in the law were more likely than men to view their firm in a negative light when it came to questions about opportunities for women to advance or take leadership roles in the office. 

Factors Driving Turnover Rates in Colorado 

The Great Resignation made headlines over the last couple years as industries across the country saw spikes in the number of professionals leaving to look for new opportunities or exit the workforce. 

While that trend appears to be slowing coming out of the pandemic, it opened a slew of questions about how employers can improve retention rates and meet the needs of the next generation of professionals. 

More than a quarter of the State of the Law Firm respondents said they planned to leave their current firm in three years or less, with 6.8% of lawyers planning to leave in a year or less and 21.2% looking to leave in two to three years. Out of the lawyers who gave longer timelines, 22.7% expected to leave in four to six years, 20.5% said they planned to leave in seven to 10 years and 28.8% planned to stay for 11 or more. 

Seniority at the firm appears to impact anticipated turnover. Associates were more likely to report plans to leave their firm within the near future compared to the total group. Of the associates who responded to the questions, 3% said they planned to leave in the next year, 33.4% said they planned to leave in the next year to three years, 30.3% said they planned to leave in four to six years, 21.2% planned to stay for another seven to 10 years and 12.1% hoped to stay for more than 11. 

That seems to be in line with findings on associate turnover rates from the 2023 Report on the State of the Legal Market published in January by Thomson Reuters and the Georgetown Law Center on Ethics and the Legal Profession. According to the report, over a 12-month period in 2022, one in five associates (20.1%) left within a year of getting hired by a law firm, slightly lower than the 24% turnover rate in 2021, but still one of the highest turnover rates found by researchers over the last decade. 

But firm seniority wasn’t the only characteristic the group shared. 

Lawyers hoping to switch jobs soon were less likely to report having a child at home under 18. Out of all the respondents, 38% reported having a child at home under 18 compared to 27% of respondents in the one-to-three-year departure cohort.

Gender and race/ethnicity for respondents looking to leave their job in the next three years was pretty closely aligned with the demographics of the larger group, but the lawyers were more likely than the overall group of respondents to identify as gay or lesbian. 

While 83% of the total respondents identified as heterosexual, 75.7% of lawyers looking to leave their firm in the next three years identified as heterosexual. In that group, 18.9% identified as gay or lesbian compared to 11% of total responses, one identified as bisexual and one declined to answer.

Of the lawyers looking to change jobs in the next three years, they were more likely compared to the full group of respondents to report neutral or negative perceptions about their firm when it came to things like experiencing a sense of belonging, and belief their firm was succeeding at retraining women and racially diverse lawyers and their firm treats everyone equally regardless of age, gender, sexuality or disability status. Respondents hoping to leave were also less likely to feel their firm had made a significant commitment of resources to promote equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

To learn more about our results, check out our special edition of Law Week Colorado.

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