Bar News - November 3, 2006
Stages of a Lawyers’ Life: Earnings, practice settings, sources of satisfaction change as attorneys grow older
By: Dennis Delay
The folk tales of humans moving through “stages” in their lives are found in every world culture. While the folklore of moving from one life stage to another is discovered everywhere, each culture has a unique view of the number of stages and their makeup.
The culture of the New Hampshire legal community, as measured by a recent survey of Bar members, reveals that the professional lives of NH lawyers, too, have their stages, with corresponding traits and tendencies.
Among the survey respondents (polled last year): 4 percent of the Bar members were under the age of 30, 22 percent were in their 30s, 34 percent were in their 40s, and 40 percent were over the age of 50. (See sidebar)
Although the small firm of two-to-five lawyers is the predominant size law firm for every age group—about a third of the lawyers in each of the age groups mentioned above was in a small firm—the number of lawyers working in larger firms or on their own varied greatly by age group. Younger New Hampshire lawyers are more likely to work in large law firms. And, as lawyers progress through the ‘stages’ of their lives, they tend to strike out on their own, and work in offices where they are the only lawyer.
Only 13 percent of the lawyers under the age of 30 work in a setting where they are the only lawyer. Two out of five lawyers (38 percent) under the age of 30 work in a large practice (a firm with 20 or more lawyers).
In contrast, less than a quarter (22 percent) of lawyers over the age of 50 are in a large law office (20 or more lawyers). Almost a third (31 percent) of lawyers over the age of 50 work in an office as the only attorney.
Not surprisingly, lawyers tend to earn more money as they advance in age. Three-quarters of the lawyers under the age of 30 make less than $60,000 per year. Only a quarter of the lawyers under the age of 30 take in between $60,000 and $100,000 per year. More than a third (35 percent) of lawyers between the ages of 40 and 50 earn more than $100,000 per year. About half (46 percent) of the lawyers over the age of 50 earn more than $100,000 per year.
Billing rates for NH Bar members also tend to increase as their age increases, correlating with years of experience. As lawyers move through the ‘stages’ of their lives and gain more experience, their billing rates tend to increase. The median billing rate, (half are above and half below) for lawyers under the age of 30 is less than $150 per hour and only 6 percent of lawyers under the age of 30 bill at $200 an hour and above. The median billing rate for lawyers over the age of 50 is over $175 per hour. Almost a third of the lawyers over the age of 50 bill at $200 an hour and above.
Work Priorities Change With Age
Finally, the New Hampshire Bar surveys showed that as lawyers move through the ‘stages’ of their lives, their work priorities change. Younger lawyers derive satisfaction from the challenge of the work and increased responsibility. Older lawyers derive satisfaction primarily from deeper connections to their clients and colleagues, increased stability in practice management and greater civility amongst attorneys in the practice of law in general.
Dennis Delay is an economist who has lived in New Hampshire for more than 30 years. He is assisting the Bar in analyzing the results of its NHBA Member Survey Series. Contact him at email@example.com.