Steve Fischer 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Thursdays are docket day for the Aransas County District Courts. The majority of the attorneys are not from Rockport, most making the 45-minute drive from Corpus Christi to do criminal appointments. Most receive $75 for their hour of court business but are not reimbursed for travel time or expenses. I look at these attorneys, old and young, some previously civil attorneys, and wonder: Is this the future they envisioned when they borrowed money and time to attend law school? This article provides a snapshot of the legal profession in Texas and explores patterns in attorney growth and employment. Population and attorney projections are relatively easy, but any specific localized prediction is more uncertain as localized events can change the course of any county. For some counties, available data is often poor. With that in mind, use the following data as a good starting point for further study. Texas has grown and so has its attorney population. According to Texas Department of State Health Services statistics, our population of 25 million residents is expected to grow more than 14 percent to 28 million by 2015. By comparison, our Texas attorney population of 90,000 (approximately 80,000 practice in Texas) is expected to grow at a slightly faster clip. Prospective attorneys still flock to the state’s nine law schools, and with the new University of North Texas Dallas College of Law set to open in 2014 (See p. 396.), an ample supply of new attorneys seems assured. The growth, however, will not be uniform among our 254 counties. Suburban counties such as Denton, Collin, Fort Bend, and Montgomery have soared in both attorney and general population; on the other end of the spectrum, there are counties that will continue to lose both attorney and non-attorney population. Harris County, with 21,206 lawyers, has more attorneys than 34 states. Dallas County, with 15,045, is not far behind, especially combined with the 4,639 attorneys next door in Tarrant County. The most-densely populated county, as far as attorneys per population, is Travis County with one attorney for every 114 people. Dallas by comparison has one attorney for every 157 people and Harris County has a population to attorney ratio of 193. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are 13 counties with only one attorney, and nine counties without any attorneys.1 (Appendix 1, a list showing attorney to population ratios for all 254 Texas counties, begins on p. 384.) Gender and Ethnicity The percentage of female attorneys continues to increase at a steady pace. In 1982, the first year the State Bar of Texas compiled gender statistics, there were only 4,989 (13 percent) women lawyers in the state.2 In 2010, that figure increased to 28,513 (33 percent). As of 2010, men represented 67 percent of our state’s attorneys, and the ratio was similar in both rural and urban counties. Of the larger counties, Jefferson (Beaumont) at 77 percent; McLennan (Waco) at 74 percent; Nueces (Corpus Christi) at 73 percent; and El Paso at 71 percent, recorded male attorney populations that significantly exceed the state average of 67.5 percent, while Denton at 58 percent, Travis at 61 percent, and Fort Bend at 61 percent3 fell below the average. While it is clear women have made strides in being admitted to the legal profession, when I made the same claim about minorities, Judge Maria Salas-Mendoza, El Paso Bar Presidentelect, disagreed. One could argue that the 13,721 minority attorneys as of 2010 are a great leap from the 8,100 in 2001; however, there has also been large growth in minority population statewide. Judge Salas-Mendoza noted that in that same 10- year period, the proportion of African-American attorneys only grew from 4 percent to 5 percent, while the percentage of Hispanic attorneys went from 6 percent to just 8 percent. It would seem that Judge Salas-Mendoza may have the better argument. Another way of looking at minority population growth vs. minority attorney population growth was supplied by Cory Squires, research analyst in the State Bar of Texas Research and Analysis Department, in Table 1. Caseload Data Understanding caseload trends may be as valuable as knowing population data. The quantity and types of cases show which areas of law are becoming more popular. The problem is the reliability of the data. Carl Reynolds, recently retired director of the Texas Office of Court Administration, acknowledges that underreporting of the number of cases is a serious problem. He cautions against the use of any numbers after August 2010, as the problem has heightened; therefore, my numbers end at July 2010. In addition, in some counties, county courts at law have taken over some district court functions, but this is supposed to be reported, as well. As dockets become more crowded, there are increased opportunities for attorneys. Caseload growth often leads to the creation of new judgeships and, in the criminal area, more prosecutors and public defenders. Statewide data from the Office of Court Administration is generally more reliable (aside from the post-August 2010 caseload numbers) than that of the individual counties and some trends have become clear. In the provided chart, I have noted some of the primary types of criminal and civil cases as well as the 10 counties with the largest criminal caseloads. There has been little growth in civil litigation over the past 10 years. Personal injury dockets are little changed, as well. There may be more new cases each year, but it is also likely that a higher percentage of cases are settled rather than go to trial. Civil caseloads would almost certainly decrease in the future if not for the continued rise in the Texas population. Every major category of criminal case has shown a steady increase, with aggravated assault and attempted murder dockets almost doubling from 15,743 to 28,624 over the 2001-2010 time period. Capital murder dockets show the next largest increase from 739 pending cases in January 2001, to 1,125 in August 2010. In family law, divorce cases have also skyrocketed at a higher clip than the population as a whole. The 226,080 cases on state dockets as of August 2010 was 34.7 percent higher than 10 years previous. (Appendix 2, a list showing caseload data for all 254 Texas counties, begins on p. 386.) Salaries Despite tough economic times, many attorneys still make a sizeable salary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2011, the San Jose, Calif., market was the most lucrative in the country for attorneys with an annual mean wage of $187,110. Most major California markets, as well as Washington, D.C. and New York City rounded out the top 10. Houston came in eighth on the list with a mean salary of $163,810. The annual mean wage for lawyers in Texas is $131,320, 11th on the list of all states. In a 2010 survey of its graduates, the University of Houston Law Center found that nine months after graduation, 92 percent were employed while 2 percent were continuing with their education. A closer look shows that among the 23 percent employed in “Business/Industry,” 25 percent of them were either working as a “legal temp” or “temporary attorney.” The Law Center’s students reported a wide range of salaries starting from $38,000 for state government employees and $38,500 for public interest lawyers, up to a $160,000 median salary for those employed in firms with more than 500 attorneys. The State Bar of Texas compiled income statistics in 2009,5 and though its sample was small, the income range was similarly wide. The survey found that sole practitioners around the state had median incomes of $97,124. It also found that attorneys generally fared best in the Houston area among all levels of experience, although among attorneys who practiced for more than 25 years, South Texas had a slightly higher income. Central Texas, including Austin, and rural attorneys were at the bottom of the earnings scale. Austin may be a surprise as it has large, high-paying national firms, however, it also has many law graduates who are determined to stay. The University of Texas School of Law accounts for 18 percent of all Texas attorneys, and some just don’t want to leave. The next largest in-state law schools, the University of Houston Law Center and South Texas College of Law, each account for 11 percent of all Texas attorneys; however, they are in the much larger Houston area, making it easier for recent graduates to assimilate. The rest of our law schools produce significantly fewer Texas attorneys: Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law (8 percent), St. Mary’s University School of Law (7 percent), Texas Tech University School of Law and Baylor Law School (6 percent), and Texas Wesleyan School of Law and Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law (3 percent). Twenty-four percent of Texas attorneys attended school out of state. Counties of Opportunity? Predicting which counties show the most promise for attorneys is not an exact science. This assumes one is curious about relocating, because as discussed previously, the best financial opportunities are the large firms in Houston, Dallas, and Austin. However, while DeWitt County in south-central Texas may have seen a decline in its ratio of people per attorney, when I dropped in on Cuero attorney Mike Sheppard, he had piles of cases covering his office. With the discovery of oil shale in the region, the amount of work there has skyrocketed, and events such as these cannot be predicted with statistics. Therefore, although I’ve presented a map of counties that seem on the verge of attorney saturation, individual study is needed before conclusions can be drawn. (See Map 1, Counties of Possible Opportunity?) Counties with low attorney-population ratios may have cities right outside the county line where people can find an attorney. Armstrong County has only one attorney for its 2,200 residents, however, it’s a short 30-mile hop to Amarillo, where 585 attorneys office. Despite this, Patricia Sherill, Armstrong County clerk and district clerk, guesses another local attorney could probably be successful. Zapata County is a border county with compelling numbers. There are only three attorneys listed for its 15,718 people and dockets have soared. There were 251 civil and 66 criminal cases in 2010, and Zapata County is projected to grow well into the future. Attorneys from the Valley and Laredo try cases there, but it’s a bit of a drive and, thus, Zapata County seems to offer opportunity. Suburban counties continue to lead the state in growth rates. What I can’t predict is how many new attorneys will follow the increasing population. The counties projected to grow most rapidly by 2020 — Williamson, Denton, Hays, Bastrop, and Collin — all have lawyer populations growing faster than the non-attorney population. Collin and Denton counties saw the number of attorneys double in the past 10 years. (See Map 2, Counties that May Have Too Many Attorneys?) Kaufman County, southeast of Dallas, is projected to grow at a 26 percent clip yet its attorney-to-population ratio has remained the same (1:900) over the past 10 years. Bell County, which includes Killeen and Temple, is similar. Wilson County, south of San Antonio, will grow at a fast rate, yet its attorney-to-population ratio has stayed at 1:1,400. Caldwell County, south of Austin, is also attractive in its demographics. By contrast, in many rural counties, when youth leave for college, they don’t move back. This includes attorneys who graduate from law school and prefer the city to home life. Longtime Rockport attorney Jim Anderson is the owner of a title company and would like to retire, but laments that his attorney son finds the lure of Austin just too enticing to return. Can one actually use numbers and statistics to make a career choice? In 1993, after I finished a professorship in Odessa, I remembered my 1992 Texas Bar Journal demographics article and how rapidly growing Denton County was. I spoke Spanish and, with a bit of extra research, found the area had plenty of non-English speaking residents, yet no Spanish-speaking attorneys who could handle felonies. I would caution: Be careful what you ask for. Working out of an unfinished, converted historic home, with a huge caseload, and being father to a 4-yearold was more than my poor organizational skills could handle. My son Huey would play in the front yard. Each time a car would park and the occupants emerge, he would scream up to my second-floor window, “Daaaddy, criminals are here to see you!” — much to the delight of my tranquil neighbors. Using these statistics as an outline, attorneys can find opportunities in many counties. One size does not fit all. Other factors than sheer numbers influence the caliber of cases. A probate or estate attorney may want a county with an older population such as a retirement mecca. On the other hand, as the best predictor of criminal activity is a large 18-24 aged populace, a criminal attorney should seek a younger population. The same is true to some extent for family attorneys. Older people commit less crimes, and retirement age people seem more willing to live with their mistakes, so to speak, than divorce. Conclusion Do you remember why you decided to attend law school and become an attorney? My reasons were somewhat amorphous, but as an outspoken individual and activist, I felt it would be a smart thing to do. I had no idea in what areas I would practice and have wandered around the state doing this or that and surviving. Future law graduates will have no such luxuries, nor should they be so haphazard in their planning. With high student debt and a more competitive job environment, they will need to plan their practice skillfully. Unless they have a position waiting for them upon graduation, they should know their area of law, location of their practice, and possess a solid business plan. Otherwise they may be relegated to joining me in writing Bar Journal articles and giving free advice on Facebook. Notes 1. State Bar of Texas Research and Analysis Department. 2. State Bar of Texas Research and Analysis Department. See also “A Statistical Profile of the State Bar of Texas 2000-2001” by Carol Cannon, MA and Kevin Priestner. 3. State Bar of Texas Research and Analysis Department, November 2011. 4. Courtesy of Cory Squires, research analyst, State Bar of Texas Research and Analysis Department. 5. 2009 Income Fact Sheet, State Bar of Texas Research and Analysis Department. Steve Fischer is an attorney in Rockport and serves as the District 11 representative on the State Bar Board of Directors. He has been a professor at the University of Texas-Permian Basin and has practiced all over the state. He also created the Facebook groups “Texas Family Lawyers,” “Texas Civil Litigation Discussion Group,” and “Make the State Bar of Texas Relevant.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook. FOR MORE INFORMATION The State Bar of Texas Research and Analysis Department maintains a host of current attorney statistics for Texas. Available reports include size of firm, law school, gender, ethnicity, and more. These reports can be accessed through the State Bar of Texas website (texasbar.com) by clicking “About us” and then “Research and Analysis.” The Texas State Data Center (txsdc.utsa.edu) has the greatest variety of state demographic numbers, followed by the U.S. Census. District clerks and court coordinators are the best subjective sources about law practice in their respective counties, as are local attorneys and judges.
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