California Bar Journal
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Bar demographics are shifting slowly
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The average work week for a California lawyer is 47.2 hours, up from 44.4 in 1991, with those in private practice putting in more hours. Private practitioners also provide more pro bono services than their government or solo counterparts.

The numbers of gay or disabled lawyers in California are about the same as 10 years ago.

Most (67 percent) are married, a majority (56 percent) practice in southern California, and more than three out of four (77 percent) are in private practice. Almost half (46 percent) said they have consulted the State Bar's ethics hotline when faced with a legal ethical dilemma.

More than 1,500 randomly selected attorneys were polled by Richard Hertz Consulting, an independent firm, in July and August. The results, whose margin of error is plus or minus 2 percent, were reported last month to the board of governors at its Santa Barbara meeting.

Hertz compared the results to a similar survey conducted by Stanford Research Institute a decade ago and found that for the most part, the face of the legal profession in California has not changed dramatically in the intervening years.

In 1991, bar membership was overwhelmingly white - 91 percent - and male - 74 percent. Ten years later, whites and males still dominate, but the comparable numbers have declined to 83 percent and 68 percent.

In California's general population, minorities comprise 53.7 percent. Non-white attorneys, however, make up just 17 percent of the bar.

No ethnic group managed to bridge the diversity gap, and most didn't even come close. Asian attorneys made the most significant leap in bar representation in the past decade, doubling to 6 percent. The new numbers push the ethnic group past the halfway point in approaching the state's 11 percent Asian population.

But African-American and Hispanic lawyers made gains of less than 1 percent.

The most woefully under-represented group are those who identify as Latino or Hispanic: They represent more than a third of the state's population, yet only 3.7 percent of them are lawyers. African-American lawyers comprise 2.4 percent of the bar, but 6.4 percent of the state's population.

Remaining non-white lawyers are .5 percent Native American, 1.5 percent mixed race and 2.8 percent "other."

A report last year by Jerry Braun, director of bar admissions, suggested the only way diversity in the bar can catch up with that of the state is by encouraging more minorities to go to law school.

Braun's projections, although admittedly unscientific, suggested that the State Bar will still be disproportionately white 20 years from now. African-American attorneys will likely make the most gains, he said, but for Hispanics, the gap is expected to grow wider.

Ethnicity aside, diversity in terms of gay and disabled bar members seems to have depreciated slightly. Despite recent expansions to the Americans with Disabilities Act, fewer attorneys reported a physical disability in 2001 than they did a decade ago. Disabled lawyers now make up 4 percent of the bar; in 1991, they comprised 6 percent of membership. Learning disabilities were not included in the poll.

The number of attorneys who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender shrank slightly, though the difference was less than a percentage point. In 1991, 97 percent of attorneys identified as straight; this year, it was 97.6 percent. But Hertz warned against drawing any conclusions from the statistic since it is unknown whether numbers in the 1991 study were rounded up.

Also, some respondents said they took offense to being queried about their sexual orientation, with 8 percent refusing to answer.

To some attorneys, questions about salary were even more offensive - 25 percent refused to state their earnings. But about half of those who answered said they make less than $100,000 per year; the other half makes more than that.

That's not to say most attorneys are rolling in dough: More than a third reported salaries in the $50,000 to $100,000 range. But 24 percent did say they earn in excess of $150,000 per year, with 4 percent of those respondents pulling in more than $300,000.

Men are still earning somewhat more than their female counterparts. On the lower end of the salary spectrum, 44 percent of men - and 60 percent of women - said they make $100,000 or less.

More than three out of four attorneys said they are in private practice, and the survey shows that when those attorneys are women, they are much less likely to be partners at their firms - 82 percent are male.

The average work week for California attorneys is higher now than 10 years ago, rising from 44.4 hours per week to 47.2 in the current survey. Those in private practice are more likely to work longer hours than their government and corporate counterparts. They are usually associates working at large firms with more than 70 attorneys.

And 22 percent of attorneys say they work more than 60 hours per week, up from 15 percent in 1991. Solo attorneys proved more likely than others to put in 40 hours or less. 

Although private attorneys work more, statistically speaking, they also tend to perform more pro bono service - 63 percent of attorneys who provide free legal aid are in private practice. Overall, fewer attorneys said they do any pro bono work, but the average number of annual pro bono hours increased.

Maybe it's those long hours, but the state's lawyers are looking a bit grayer than they did a decade ago. At least the men are: Of attorneys 55 and up, 80 percent are men. Nearly a quarter of the bar - male and female - is over 55 this year, up 10 percent from 10 years ago.

Since 1991, 7 percent more lawyers have hit middle age, with 28 percent reporting they are between 45 and 54 years old. The number of lawyers under 35 has remained fairly constant at 24 percent.

Where youth may be winning out, however, is in boosting bar membership among women. Only one out of five lawyers over 55 is a woman, but close to half of lawyers under 35 are female.

The bar is still largely male, at 68 percent, but their numbers are slowly shrinking.