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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

Predominantly white male State Bar changing ... slowly

Bar NumbersAlthough diversity in the ranks of California lawyers has increased over the last decade, change is occurring slowly and the vast majority of attorneys in the state remain male and white. The results of a survey of randomly selected lawyers conducted last month also reveal that the state’s attorney population still doesn’t come close to reflecting California’s demographic makeup, as reported in the 2010 census.

The percentage of female attorneys in California has continued to slowly increase, reaching 39.4 percent in the current survey, compared with just 26 percent 20 years ago, 32 percent in 2001 and 34 percent in 2006.

Diversification by ethnic group also continued to increase but at a substantially slower pace. The percentage of white attorneys has dropped to 79.3 percent, compared with 91 percent in 1991, 83 percent in 2001 and 84.4 percent five years ago.

The survey also found that the state’s lawyers are graying: Nearly half (48 percent) are 55 or older, compared with just 14 percent in 1991, and half have been practicing law for 20 years or more.

Other highlights of the online survey, conducted by Hertz Research of Bodega Bay over a 10-day period at the end of November and the beginning of December, include:

  • Fully two-thirds work in private practice.
  • Among those in private practice, 47 percent work as sole practitioners, somewhat lower than the 54 percent who practiced alone in 2006.
  • 58 percent said they do pro bono work, with the largest group -- 39 percent -- volunteering their services for between one and 25 hours.
  • Despite the widespread popularity of such social media as Facebook and Twitter, only 14 percent of the survey’s respondents said they use such outlets in their legal practice.
  • More than two-thirds -- 68 percent -- said they found MCLE courses “helpful or informative” and nearly half -- 48 percent -- pay for continuing legal education courses themselves.
  • More than half (52 percent) said they are not certain if substance abuse is a particular problem among lawyers.
  • Forty-two percent work in southern California -- Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The San Francisco Bay Area accounts for 23 percent of the state’s lawyers.
  • Not surprisingly, 60 percent of the respondents said bar dues, currently $410 per year, are too high.

The survey was commissioned by the board of governors in September as one of a series of membership surveys, conducted roughly every five years, to update demographic data on State Bar members and how they practice law in order to assist with projecting trends in the legal profession and to track other data of relevance to the profession. Questions were sent via email to a random sampling of 10,000 active and inactive lawyers, garnering 1,820 responses by the return deadline. The survey also was posted online at the bar’s website, where another 448 members responded to the 50-question inquiry.

Bar members were surveyed in the 1990s by SRI International and Rand. Hertz Research conducted the current survey as well as the 2001 and 2006 studies. In addition to assessing demographic changes, the survey also measured member sentiment about other topics including MCLE, the bar’s member benefit programs, its website and the California Bar Journal.

Although women account for anywhere between 40 percent and 52 percent of law students and the number of practicing women lawyers in California is on the rise, they still account for fewer lawyers than men. And they lag behind their overall 50.3 percentage of the California population. An article in AM Law Daily last spring suggested that continued bad press about the lack of discernible growth in female leadership positions in large law firms and legal departments may be causing a decline in the number of female applicants to law school. The article, which reported a steady decline in female enrollment in law schools since 2002, also said the numbers at the top 10 law schools show that women make up around 40 percent of law students, with the exception of UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall, with a female law student population of 52.9 percent.

As for the ethnicity of the state’s lawyers, the changes among lawyers of color are occurring at a snail’s pace, with most of the increases among those of Asian or Pacific Islander descent. The percentage of attorneys in those groups doubled between 1991 and 2001, from 3 to 6 percent, but then climbed by just 1.7 percent over the next 10 years to the current 7.7 percent.

The numbers of Latino and African-American attorneys has remained virtually static. In 1991, 3 percent of the state’s lawyers were Latino, 3.7 percent in 2001 and 4.2 percent today. Latinos make up 37.6 percent of California’s population.

The number of African-Americans lawyers also has changed little over the years and account for an even smaller percentage of bar membership -- 2 percent in 1991, 2.4 percent in 2001, 1.7 percent in 2006 and 2.7 percent today. African-Americans make up 6.2 percent of the state’s population.

Attorneys seem to be working a little harder than they were five years ago: 31 percent said they work at least 50 hours per week, compared with 28 percent in 2006. On the other hand, the highest number -- 29 percent -- work between 41-49 hours today.

In addition, the vast majority -- 68 percent -- earn under $150,000 annually from their legal practice, compared with 74 percent in 2006. Those earning between $200,000-$300,000 or more than $300,000 each crept up by one percentage point, from 8 to 9 percent and 7 to 8 percent respectively.

The survey results also suggest the harsh economy may be having a negative impact on some lawyers as well. Among the 11 percent who said they are “actively seeking work as attorney,” 31 percent said they’d been looking for legal work for one to two years and another 29 percent said the job hunt had gone on for more than two years. Another 30 percent said they’d been looking for work as a lawyer for between three months and a year.

The survey also found that more than half the respondents (52 percent) rarely visit the State Bar website. Site visitors said they found the attorney search function, MCLE information and paying dues online the most useful features. Sixty percent have taken an online MCLE course, about one-third have called the Ethics Hotline, more than three-quarters have not used the bar’s discount or insurance programs, and 70 percent said they read at least part of the monthly California Bar Journal, primarily for legal news or discipline summaries.