Growth of the Profession
Today, the number of awyers in the United States exceeds 675,000. This translates to one lawyer for every 364 people. Twenty-five years ago, there was one lawyer for every 700 people. The rate at which the legal profession is growing will probably continue to outpace rate of population growth through the end of the century.
Why is a career in law so popular? Market forces account for some of the allure. We know that in 1984 the average salary of experienced lawyers was 88,000 dollars. If we could include in this average the salaries of all lawyer, whatever their experience, the figure would probably be much lower, certainly well below the 108,000 dollars average salary of physicians. But lawyers’ salaries are still substantially greater than those of many other professionals. Salaries for newly minted lawyers heading for elite New York law firms exceeded 71,000 dollars in 1987; some firms offered additional bonuses for clerkship experience in the federal courts and state supreme courts. The glamour of legal practice strengthens the attraction of its financial rewards.
There are other reasons for the popularity of the legal profession and the unquenchable demand for legal services. Materialism and individualism in American culture encourage dispute. Federalism gives separate legal systems for each state plus the national government. Advertising can now create demand for legal services, too. Finally, the principles of separation of powers and of checks and balances make governing difficult and sometimes impossible. When political institutions act, they often are forced to compromise, deferring critical issues to the courts. Pluralist democracy operates when groups are able to press their interests on, and even challenge, the government. The expression of group demands in a culture that encourages lawsuits thrusts on the courts all manner of disputes and interests. Is it any wonder that America needs all the lawyers it can train?