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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 3, 2014 3 years ago

How many lawyers does it take?

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The possibility there are too many lawyers sounds like the beginning of a joke.

The possibility there are too many lawyers sounds like the beginning of a joke.

But this is no punch line: There are around 100,000 licensed attorneys in Florida, one for every 200 people statewide. And there are more than 1.2 million lawyers in the United States, good for one for every 257 Americans.

To some, like a majority of respondents in two separate surveys, that's an excessive amount of legal advice. One survey, released by Rasmussen Reports earlier this year, found that 56% of Americans think there are too many attorneys, compared to 9% who believe there aren't enough. In another survey, Florida lawyers say oversaturation of attorneys tops the list of issues that will have the greatest impact on the legal profession.

Guy McConnell and Michael Hooker, litigators with the Tampa office of Phelps Dunbar, address the too-many-lawyers question in an article in the September issue of The Federal Lawyer. The attorneys, in general, contend a conclusion based solely on data negates nuance.

“At first blush, the evidence would seem to support the conclusion that there are, in fact, too many lawyers,” Hooker and McConnell write. “By any objective measure, there currently exists a large number of lawyers in America. However, as the ranks of lawyers have been expanding, the employment opportunities have been contracting.”

The lack of jobs, the article states, compounds the bigger issue: The legal industry's slowness to overcome and adapt to problems and challenges, from the ways law schools teach students to the amount of pro bono work attorneys provide.

“It is possible there is not so much an overall glut of lawyers, as a misallocation in the marketplace, resulting in too many lawyers doing the same type of work in the same locations while the legal needs of the larger populace go unmet,” say Hooker and McConnell. “Finally, it is also possible lawyers conveniently blame an overabundance of lawyers for the fundamental challenges that technology, competition, and increased client demands are bringing to bear on the profession. The too-many-lawyers outcry may be simply a convenient catch phrase that encapsulates multiple, different pressures facing lawyers today.”

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