At the local and national level, the legal profession is upping efforts to paint a better picture of who attorneys are, the regions where they work and the size of their firms. The American Bar Association released its first “Profile of the Legal Profession,” which compiles data the association has collected for years, before its 2019 annual meeting last week in San Francisco. And last winter during the attorney registration period for 2019, Colorado’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel collected demographic data beyond gender and age for the first time.
The OARC created a voluntary survey focused on breaking down Colorado’s lawyer population by geography, gender identity, sexual orientation, race and veteran status. About 32% of the state’s active registered attorney population, which came out to 8,734 people, responded to the survey. Attorney regulation counsel Jessica Yates said the published survey results include data only from attorneys registered as active, because the survey got much fewer responses from attorneys with inactive status.
Yates said the OARC hasn’t yet decided whether to collect additional types of data on the survey in future years. She said the office made a conscious choice to keep the survey short to increase the number of attorneys willing to take it. Some information in the OARC’s annual report, such as gender and age, comes from the mandatory registration form attorneys fill out, so it includes data from all of Colorado’s registered attorneys.
“One of the things that was very important to us … is that the demographic survey be short, easy to complete, and something that you can do in three minutes or less,” Yates said, instead of trying to collect every piece of data under the sun that turns the questionnaire into a “20-minute survey that nobody wants to fill out.” She added that consideration also factored into deciding how many category choices to include in each question.
Some information from the OARC’s survey is difficult to compare with the ABA’s national data when the two bodies designated categories differently. For example, the OARC found about a quarter of a percent of respondents identified each as transgender or nonbinary. The ABA did not collect data on gender categories beyond male and female.
Both reports include information collected about lawyers who identify as LGBTQ. According to the OARC’s report, 6.84% of Colorado’s survey respondents identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or “other.” The ABA’s Profile of the Legal Profession estimates 2.86% of lawyers identify as LGBT but did not break down the statistic into subcategories of sexual orientations.
Data shows Colorado’s lawyer population is much closer to overall gender parity than the national lawyer population. According to the survey, 44.3% of respondents identify as female, while the ABA tracked 36% of lawyers nationally as female.
Yates said by tracking the gender breakdown of Colorado’s attorneys registered as active over the years, the OARC has found that many more women than men leave the legal profession after fewer than 10 years practicing. She said that didn’t come as a surprise in this year’s report, nor did the revelation that racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in Colorado’s legal profession compared with the general population.
“Really, this was an opportunity to document that statistically,” Yates said, adding “the fact that only 38% of private practitioners are women is really a reflection of women leaving the private practice of law.” By contrast, about 48% of government-employed lawyers in Colorado are women.
Yates said the difference between those two data points dispels the generalization that women only leave the profession because of family obligations.
“The government sector has figured out how to make sure that women have a meaningful place in the practice of law. So if government can do it, the private sector can do it.”
Both reports looked at geographical aspects of lawyer populations. Colorado’s survey found 9% of attorneys practice in rural areas, but Yates said attorney shortages are difficult to measure because defining a “shortage” is nebulous. According to the ABA’s report, only Alaska and Oklahoma have actually seen decreases in their lawyer populations since 2000.
Colorado’s inactive attorney population is growing faster than the number of active attorneys. According to the report, inactive registrations grew by 5.2% in 2018, compared to 1.4% growth of active registrations. Yates said that’s probably due to what she called a “silver tsunami” of older attorneys retiring and registering as inactive.
The ABA’s report found a 0.7% increase in the number of active attorneys between 2018 and 2019. According to the report, the growth in active attorney numbers has been below 1% three of the past four years.
Yates said she hopes the survey’s information will be useful for finding the sources of Colorado’s diversity gaps. She said she has had judges ask for the information so they can compare it to demographic information about the state courts to get a sense of how well the judiciary reflects Colorado’s attorney population.
“Hopefully, large legal employers also could use that to get a sense of whether they are recruiting and retaining diverse candidates at a rate that would at least mirror, if not be better than the general attorney population,” Yates said.