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What Are 'Excess Attorneys' and Why Does New York Have So Many?

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Figures don't lie, but lawyers figure.

Apologies to the author of the original phrase, but we're lawyers here so just go with it. We're talking about a report that shows -- by the numbers -- how many "excess attorneys" there are throughout the country.

"Excess attorneys," in the statistical report, means lawyers who are not employed as attorneys. Here's how it breaks down:

Most Non-Practicing Attorneys

New York has the most "excess attorneys" --78,926 -- according to Matt Leichter, who compiled the numbers from the American Bar Association, U.S. Census records, and other statistics.

The Empire State also has the most active lawyers -- 169,756 -- so it makes some sense that about 46.5% of the attorneys there are not practicing law. Among the 50 states, it ranks 13th in the report, followed closely by California with 71,427 "excess attorneys."

"'Excess Attorneys' may be judges, politicians, business people whose careers advanced due to their law degrees; or, they may be people who were unable to find careers as lawyers, are working in fields that don't require law degrees, are choosing not to work at all, or are unemployed yet still maintaining active licenses," Leichter explains.

Highest Percentage of Non-Practicing Attorneys

Raw numbers aside, the highest percentage of non-practicing attorneys -- almost 69% -- reside in Puerto Rico. In fact, according to the analysis, at least 50% of the attorneys in the following jurisdictions are not practicing law:

Puerto Rico (68.9 percent); Alaska (56.7 percent); Tennessee (53.6 percent); Alabama (51.5 percent); Missouri (50.8 percent); Louisiana (50.5 percent); Maryland (50.3 percent); Massachusetts (50.1 percent); and Minnesota (50 percent).

Commenting on the report, the ABA Journal noted that the numbers are based on 2014 statistics. The Journal said Leichter, an attorney based in Minneapolis, determined the "excess attorneys" by calculating the difference between active attorneys and employment numbers provided by state governments.

In Washington D.C., with the highest per capita of lawyers in the nation, about a fourth of them are not practicing law -- probably politicians. Go figure.

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