Based on calculations I have made over the past couple of years using ABA stats for the number of licensed attorneys in 2004 and 2009, LSAC data for the number of students enrolled in the law schools, and Census Bureau projected population data, one out of every 275 people in the United States was a licensed attorney in 2004. This inverse attorney-to-population ratio decreased to about 258 in 2009, just five years later. At the current rate of lawyer overproduction where about 44,000 new JDs are produced every year, assuming that a new 25 year old lawyer would want to work for 40 years and that enough new law schools open so that the current pace of new JD production increases proportionally to population growth, enough new lawyers are being produced so that eventually one out of every 165 people will be a lawyer.
If (as reported at various places) students at top schools have been having difficulty finding entry-level jobs in the legal profession when one out of every 258 Americans is a lawyer, how hard will it be to earn a living as an attorney when one in every 165 people is a lawyer?
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).