OARC Report Sheds Light on Attorney Diversity and Experience in Rural and Metro Areas

While Denver is home to many attorneys, other areas of the state have more experienced if fewer attorneys. kla4067 / Creative Commmons

While white attorneys in the metro-areas of Colorado still make up the majority of Colorado’s attorney population, according to a new report from the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, smaller cities and non-city areas show close numbers of diverse attorney percentages and elderly attorneys serving far-flung areas of the state.

The report, released annually from the OARC, covers not only the numbers and trends of attorneys, but also voluntary information the office has been able to gather about sex, gender, age, ethnicity, race and  geographic location.

Because OARC registration is mandatory for Colorado-licensed attorneys, the “OARC is uniquely positioned to learn more about the demographic composition of the Colorado bar,” according to the report. While traditionally the OARC has collected gender information and attorney birth dates, it doesn’t regularly collect other types of demographic data.

For the third year in a row, the OARC offered an anonymous demographic survey as part of the annual registration process, according to the report. “While voluntarily-reported data is not statistically reliable as mandatory registration reporting data, it can be helpful to understanding diversity within our lawyer population.”

“Diversity within the attorney population also helps increase the public’s confidence that clients can find attorneys who they relate to and who will represent their interests,” the 2020 report states, adding that one objective of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure is to promote diversity, inclusion, equality and freedom from discrimination in delivery of legal services and administration of justice.

Out of the over 28,000 active attorneys in Colorado, nearly 6,500 voluntarily completed the survey.

Colorado Attorney Overview

In 2020, the total number of active attorneys in Colorado reached 28,014, according to the report. In comparison, over 43,000 attorneys were registered with the office in 2020 — up 1.8% from 2019.

And the total number of active attorneys in Colorado has been rising for some time — by 2.8% in 2020 alone, according to figures from the OARC reports. For comparison, in 2016, Colorado had a total of 26,035 active attorneys, which grew to 27,255 in 2019.

By type of practice, according to the report, the highest percentage of attorneys in 2020 were solo practitioners, coming in at 23% or roughly 5,600 attorneys. Coming in second were private attorneys at small organizations, about 20% or 4,800. Third were governmental attorneys who came in at 19% or about 4,700.

The smallest group of attorneys are in-house counsel, which make up about 11% of active attorneys, or roughly 2,600 people.

The majority of respondents to the voluntary survey, 70% of them, reported living in a Colorado metro area with a population above 150,000 people, according to the report. Only about 10%, just 634 attorneys, reported living in a city with a population between 30,000-149,000.

“A sizeable portion — 13.3% — are registered as active but do not live in Colorado,” the report states.

And only 491 respondents, about 7% of total respondents, reported living some place in Colorado beyond the metros and cities — across the mountains, plains or other non-city areas.

“While non-city areas certainly have fewer lawyers, those lawyers are more likely to have significant experience in the practice of law,” the report states. “This demographic observation also suggests that there may be opportunities for less experienced lawyers to enter those markets or engage in succession planning with more experienced lawyers.”

However, those rural areas do face challenges of legal deserts with few active attorneys, according to the report. Citing both American Bar Association analysis of OARC data and zip codes, the report states that in 28 out of the state’s 64 counties there are a total of 10 or fewer active attorneys.

According to the report figures, some of the most experienced Colorado attorneys live in non-city areas. Roughly 31% of Colorado attorneys with over 30 years of experience live in non-city areas, compared with only 23% of larger city areas. About 27% of over 30 years-experience lawyers live in smaller Colorado cities.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, both metro areas and smaller cities are nearly tied on attorneys with less than a decade of experience on the job, according to the report. Roughly 35% for metro areas, and 34.9% in smaller cities, according to the report. Roughly 27% of decade or less attorneys live in non-city areas of Colorado.

Age is another strong differentiator between the metro and non-city areas. The report states that the majority of respondents between 24 and 50 years old live in larger Colorado cities, but the majority of active attorneys between the ages of 50-69 live in smaller cities. The largest share of active attorneys over age 70 live in non-city areas.

Of note, the two age groups with the highest number of voluntary survey respondents were at opposite ends of their career — those with five or less years of practice and those with over 35 years’ experience. In total, 19% of respondents had less than five years of practice, and 16% were from 35-plus year veterans. For comparison, only 9% of respondents were somewhere between 16 and 20 years of experience.

Diversity

“While less populated geographic areas on the whole have a smaller portion of diverse lawyers, there still are many lawyers who identify as diverse in a number of ways,” the report states.

The majority percentage of racially/ethnically diverse Colorado attorneys reside in Colorado’s larger metro areas, roughly 15%, according to the report. Smaller cities aren’t far behind at 14%. However, only about 9% of non-city attorneys identify as diverse.

White or Caucasian attorneys represented 85% of all respondents, according to the report. The second highest amount were Hispanic, Latino or Spanish Origin individuals at 6% of respondents. Asian or Asian Americans, Black or African Americans, American Indian or Alaskan Natives, Middle Eastern or North Africans and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders all came in below 4% of respondents.

A total of 85% of Colorado attorneys responding to the survey identified as heterosexual. Only 3% identified as bisexual; 1% gay; 1% lesbian and .56% considered themselves other.

For gender identity, respondent responses showed that 50% of respondents identified as male, while 46% of attorneys identified as female. A total of 0.16% of respondents identified as transgender or gender nonconforming, while 0.30% identified themselves as non-binary.

In 2020, a total of 11,066 female attorneys were active in Colorado. Of that number, the highest reported age group of female attorneys were between the ages of 30 and 39 with 3,460 attorneys. The smallest group was between 70 and 79 with 297. A total of 830 were under the age of 29.

In comparison, the number of active male attorneys sat at 16,944 last year, according to the report. Of that, the highest number of male attorneys actively practicing were also between 30 and 39, with 3,751 attorneys. However, the number of male attorneys still active over the next 20 years trail close behind. The numbers only drop below 3,000 in the 70-79 age group, where there were still 1,835 active male attorneys in the state last year.

While attorneys of different sexual or gender orientations still represent a small percentage of Colorado attorneys, there’s little difference in numbers between major metros and rural areas, according to the report.

Respondent attorneys identifying as gay, lesbian or bisexual had only a few percentage points of difference between geographic locations, according to the report. While the larger metro areas are still in first at 8.5%, smaller cities trail close behind at 7.6% and non-city come in at 6.6%.

Attorneys identifying as non-binary or transgender show close percentages in both big city and non-city areas, according to the report. Only 0.7% of attorneys in metro cities identify as non-binary or transgender, compared with 0.6% in non-cities. Only 0.2% of non-binary or transgender identifying attorneys live in smaller cities.

And only 8% of respondents claimed a veteran status. Interestingly the lowest number of veteran attorneys are in the metro areas at 6%, but smaller and non-city areas are tied at 8.8%.

Bar Exam & UBE

When looking at the information surrounding the bar exam and UBE transfers, it is important to note that both bars in 2020 faced challenges from COVID-19. One was performed in-person and the other was the first-ever remote bar exam in state history.

In total, 1,047 individuals applied to take the 2020 exam, and a total of 909 sat for the bar, according to the report. A total of 649 people passed. It is important to note that with the pandemic, 61 applicants for the July bar exam which was held in-person opted to transfer to the online February 2021 exam.

For the February 2021 exam, 326 individuals applied, and 267 took the bar. A total of 150 passed overall, a 56% pass rate, according to the report. In total, 95 first-time-passers rose to the bar, and 55 repeat test takers.

The July bar exam had 721 applicants for the bar, of which 642 sat. A total of 499 passed overall, a 78% pass rate, according to the report. Those who passed consisted of 484 first-timers and 15 repeat test takers.

Last year, 126 UBE Score Transfer Applicants and 405 On Motion Applications were filed with the OARC. A total of 123 UBE transfers and 373 motion applicants were processed and cleared for eligibility and requirements for Colorado.

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