Law by the Numbers

It takes a special kind of mind to love statistics, but only the wilfully obtuse ignore them.

Prior to the 2008 recession the statistics for the legal profession could borrow the Olympic Games’ motto – Faster, Higher, Stronger. Nearly five years later, higher numbers of law grads and rising fees are more problematic. Stronger? That’s a difficult question, and part of the impetus for the CBA Legal Futures Initiative. Phase I looked at the current state of the profession in an attempt to identify where the forces of change will take it so as to position Canada’s lawyers to flourish in the future.

As part of the first phase of the project, the CBA commissioned a study of recent demographic trends. The first thing it found was that there is very little demographic information available for the legal profession in Canada.

The information that was available, however, showed the numbers of practising lawyers and law school admissions have been rising steadily over the past decade. Job growth is expected to be strong but new graduates may have to wait for the cohort of senior practitioners to retire – and that could take a while. The median age of the occupational group that includes lawyers is 45.6, “significantly older than other occupational groups,” and the average retirement age is 75.

Growth in fees and compensation outpace the consumer price index by a wide margin.

About two-thirds of Canada’s lawyers are in private practice, and that’s where 63.6 per cent of new calls end up. A widening urban-rural divide is exemplified by Alberta, where 88 per cent of the lawyers practise in either Calgary or Edmonton, which raises serious access to justice concerns.

Diversity remains a sticking point. Gender equality is seeing gains, but mostly for newer lawyers willing to practise in non-traditional settings, such as government or in-house. While there are no national statistics for equity-seeking groups, the few numbers available from provincial sources suggest this is one area where the legal profession lags behind the general population.

The report refrains from making any sweeping conclusions, but the critical eye might discern a model that is unsustainable in a stagnant economy.

What do the numbers say to you? Join the conversation on Twitter at #cbafutures and check out our website at

Comments are closed.