Lawyers are the backbone of society, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They carry great responsibility and follow a rigid code of ethics, the BLS reports in its 2010-2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook. Few people know that some famous entertainers held law degrees and that lawyers could face lower life expectancies. Also, many lawyers donate their professional time to low-income clients.
One lawyer exists for every 300 people in the United States, says lawyer and author Mischelle Weedman-Davis at the Hiring a Great Lawyer website. About 25 percent of attorneys are self-employed, the BLS reports. Competition among law schools is fierce, with colleges and universities receiving far more applicants than they have openings. And the employment climate continues to be brutal, with law schools cranking out an average of 40,000 graduates every year, Weedman-Davis says. Many lawyers create their own opportunities by establishing practices in small towns. Some work full time in other professions and do legal work on the side. Other law school graduates have found success in unrelated fields, such as legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, rock musician Ray Manzarek of the Doors and TV personality Ozzie Nelson.
Consumers have a stereotypical image of lawyers as being aggressive perfectionists. Sadly, those same personality traits might be responsible for a high suicide rate among lawyers, says journalist and law school graduate Debra Cassens Weiss in an American Bar Association Journal article titled "Personal Lives: Lawyer Personalities May Contribute to Increased Suicide Risk." She cites studies that indicate that suicide is the third-leading cause of death in the legal profession behind cancer and cardiac troubles. Cassens Weiss also references studies showing that male lawyers between ages 20 and 64 are twice as likely to die from suicide than men in the same age range in other professions. Other researchers found that female lawyers have high divorce rates, and many attorneys say they suffer from anxiety several times a month.
Many attorneys lend their services at no charge, which is known as pro bono work. More than 70 percent of lawyers polled by the American Bar Association say they provide pro bono work, according to a 2009 news release from the University of Buffalo. This is a 10 percent increase from 2004. The university references published works—" Private Lawyers and the Public Interest: The Evolving Role of Pro Bono in the Legal Profession"—that examine free legal services during economically difficult times. The upswing in pro bono services is related to the deep cuts in government assistance for the poor, the university says. In addition, law firms are viewed more favorably by the public when they accept pro bono cases.
2016 Salary Information for Lawyers
Lawyers earned a median annual salary of $118,160 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, lawyers earned a 25th percentile salary of $77,580, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $176,580, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 792,500 people were employed in the U.S. as lawyers.