I had previously calculated the number of 165 people per attorney erroneously based on a new lawyer production rate of 46,124 new attorneys per year, which is the sum of all law students in the U.S. divided by three. However, my calculation failed to account for the fact that not all law students will matriculate. The calculation of 165 was also based on an earlier U.S. population number of 304,060,000.
304,060,000 / (46,124 * 40) = 164.8
Using the number of 44,000 new lawyers per year (as Nando pointed out) combined with the U.S. Census Bureau's population clock and a downward adjustment of 3 million (to estimate the population in June of 2009) , I arrived at a slightly less-depressing number of 174.2. The number of new graduates for 2009 was based on the NALP's number of 40,833 respondents constituting 92.8% of the 2009 class (40,833 / 0.928 = 44,001).
This number is a back-of-the-envelop calculation and depends heavily on the population estimate and exactly when it is counted. Using the number of 309,557,000 at the U.S. population clock and then estimating a population growth of 3 million people over the past year, we arrive at the figure of 306,557,000 for June 2009.
306,557,000 / (44,000 * 40) = 174.2.
If the population were 300 million then the number would be 170.5. If the population were 310 million then the number would be 176.1.
So, assuming that the number of 44,000 JDs awarded in 2009 is reliable, I think we can safely say that right now the law schools are producing new lawyers at a rate to sustain having one lawyer for every 174 people. Assuming that over time the number of new lawyers produced increases proportionally with population growth then eventually our nation will have one lawyer for every 174 people. However, as is clear from the increase in the lawyer to population ratio that occurred between 2004 and 2009, the increase in the number of new JDs minted each year is outpacing population growth.
March 11, 2011. I want to clarify that the 40 year average lawyer-to-population ratio that new JD production can sustain (which I eventually calculated to be 1 lawyer for every 171.9 people) is NOT the same thing as the actual lawyer-to-population ratio. The number I calculated for a given year of new JD production would only reflect the actual lawyer-to-population ratio if the U.S. population remained the same for the following 40 years. This is because while the U.S. population continues to increase, the number of JDs produced in a given prior year is static and cannot increase proportionally with population growth.
Consequently, Using ABA and BLS stats, the actual lawyer-to-population ratio is about 1 lawyer for every 215 people (only counting JDs minted over the past 40 years).