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200,000 lawyers and counting

Even with 200,000 lawyers, California trails New York

By Nancy McCarthy
Staff Writer

When Danika B. Vittitoe’s name was entered into the State Bar’s database on Jan. 11, there were no fireworks, no sirens screaming, no marching bands playing rousing tunes. But when the membership records clerk pressed the “enter” key on her computer, Vittitoe became the 200,000th lawyer in California, surely some sort of milestone.

Membership Chart
(Click to Enlarge)

Of course, her place in bar history is purely random, a little like being the 1 millionth passenger on BART or the 10 millionth fan to pass through the turnstiles at Yankee Stadium. Vittitoe’s name happened to be entered just after Nicole J. Kubista, who lives in St. Paul, Minn. And just before David A. Knotts, who works for Piper Rudnick Gray Cary in San Diego.

Although she is the 200,000th lawyer in California, her bar number is not 200,000; that honor went to Joanna Grissinger, a Chicago lawyer whose California membership went from active to inactive in just nine days in 1998.

Nope, Vittitoe’s number is 235337, a number she’ll need to provide when she completes MCLE classes, or that others might need to make sure she’s really a lawyer.

The 200,000 includes active and inactive lawyers licensed in the state whether they practice here or not, all California judges and the nearly 7,000 who find themselves on the “ineligible to practice” list for behaving badly. Another 35,337 other lawyers once were members of the California bar, but have either died, resigned or were disbarred.

The huge lawyer population dwarfs every other state except New York, which leads the pack with 207,413 registered with that state’s Office of Court Administration at the end of 2003. Another 7,000 or so have registered since, but the office has not compiled final figures for 2004. No other jurisdiction has numbers in the six figures — the closest are the District of Columbia (79,732), Florida (75,784), and Texas (74,675).

Danika Vittitoe
William Harrison Waste

Vittitoe turned 30 on Feb. 3, grew up in Long Beach, and has a degree in English literature from Dartmouth College. She received her law degree in June from Hastings, the law school with the most graduates — 14,728 — admitted to the State Bar, including William Harrison Waste, a Supreme Court chief justice who had the distinction of being the first member of the State Bar. Waste was given the number 1 as a professional courtesy to the state’s top presiding judge when the State Bar was formed in 1927.

Between Dartmouth and Hastings, Vittitoe worked at an advertising agency in Boston, wrote grants for Suffolk University, also in Boston, taught high school at Long Beach Wilson, and worked as a paralegal at Arco.

Why did she become a lawyer? “I’m not really sure,” Vittitoe laughed. She had a lawyer friend in a writing class at the UCLA Extension who kept nudging her in that direction. “I was sort of bored and didn’t have anything else to do,” she confessed.

She was a summer associate at Arnold & Porter and accepted their offer without pursuing other interviews and now works in the firm’s litigation department in Los Angeles, the bar district with the most lawyers in the state — 53,678 as of Jan. 20.

Vittitoe was one of the lucky ones who passed the July bar exam. Only 3,886 others did, fewer than 50 percent. She traveled to southeast Asia for four months and missed the mass swearing-in ceremonies for her young colleagues, so instead took the oath of office from a notary at her firm.

Although non-plussed about her status within the State Bar, Vittitoe did admit she was pleased to “know I have a bragging right so early in my career.”

Although bar records are unclear on who became the 100,000th lawyer in the state, Saratoga lawyer Jann Marie Nakashima got that number in 1981. The owner of the number 2 was Hiram Johnson, governor of California when the bar came into existence.

Other tidbits:

  • Clara Shortridge Foltz, who passed the bar in 1879, was the first female listed on the membership rolls with bar number 2596. Foltz was a well-known suffragist and champion of women’s rights.
  • The oldest active member of the bar today is Walter Carder of Berkeley, who will turn 99 next month.
  • 93-year-old Helen Shapiro of San Anselmo is the oldest active female member of the bar.
  • Last year, the bar presented special certificates to 388 attorneys who have been members of the State Bar of California in good standing for 50 years.
  • By January 1928, 9,521 attorneys had been admitted to the bar during its first year of existence.
  • Since 1978, the average age of new admittees every year has been either 30 or 31. The average age of active lawyers is 47.
  • UCLA has produced the largest number of undergraduates who became lawyers (17,039 or 8.51 percent), followed by UC Berkeley (15,161 or 7.57 percent).
  • When MCLE requirements for active lawyers were instituted, the number of “inactive” attorneys jumped dramatically.
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