Via Mark Hansen, “Washington State Legal Community Braces for Huge Turnover in Lawyer Population,” ABA Journal.
Adam Worcester, “Legal profession braces for turnover as half the state’s lawyers say they want out,” Puget Sound Business Journal.
According to the original article:
“A recent Washington State Bar Association survey discovered that 7,200 of its members – almost a quarter of the state’s practicing attorneys – are considering retirement within five years … Seventy-one percent of the WSBA membership is age 50 or older, with 21 percent being 61 or above.”
According to the numbers, Washington has 23,741 active and resident lawyers in 2012, and in 2010 14,231 were actually working as lawyers (including self-employed lawyers). If 7,200 members constitute nearly a quarter of the state’s practicing lawyers, that means there should be around 28,000 attorneys on the rolls, which clearly isn’t the case. Someone isn’t right here.
But it doesn’t matter because when an industry’s practitioners are so old and all about to retire, one must be dying to know how such a bizarre set of circumstances could’ve arisen. I’d think industries would reflect the population, but the two stated answers, blame Bill Gates and blame selfish Gen-Xers don’t persuade me.
“First, dot-com companies lured away many potential lawyers and other professional workers. Second, an emphasis on work-life balance soured Generation Xers on following traditional career paths.”
Using ABA and Census data, it appears that Washington’s lawyer population grew faster than its normal population, and it doesn’t appear significantly different than the rest of the country. Note that anyone over 50 today would’ve been at least 25 in 1987, so all these Boomer lawyers have been working in a growing legal market—or, rather, growing numbers of active and resident lawyers.
If the dot-coms were luring necessary people away, the solution would normally be to raise salaries. If work-life balance is the issue, then give workers more work life balance. The fact that they didn’t indicates that Washington’s legal needs were being met.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the original article said as much.
To be sure, not all industry observers see a crisis brewing. Tammy Gibson, the Seattle division director for staffing firm Robert Half Legal, said the pool of attorney candidates remains deep.
“I’ve not noticed any less count of potential recruits,” Gibson said. “What I am seeing is that there’s becoming more competition within firms.”
In sharp contrast to last year, larger firms are asking specifically for candidates they can train to become senior partners. Smaller firms, meanwhile, are expanding searches nationwide.
The result for job seekers has been multiple offers, quick placements, and increased incentives such as signing bonuses and reimbursement for moving expenses. Firms trying to retain lawyers, on the other hand, are raising salaries and offering other compensation, such as flextime and telecommuting.
If the profession is grayer than in the past, and if the wages and benefits are stagnant until people start retiring, then it sounds like the problem’s with demand for profession’s services and not everyone else. It’s not as though the clients of retired lawyers will be unable to find new counselors to handle their matters.