Have you ever done a lawyer near me search?
Over the past two decades, the Internet has transformed how people find services—from listening to music to shopping to watching movies. It has also changed how we find lawyers and legal services. Data about internet searches for lawyers and the numbers of lawyers registered in the various states show what types of lawyers the public is searching for and the distribution of the lawyers across the states.
The number of lawyers in the United States is rising much faster than the population, comparatively. One might think that since the number of lawyers has increased by 200% from the mid-1970s to 2011, whereas in the same time period, the population only grew by 45%, the searches for lawyers would mostly be successful. Why wouldn’t there be a lawyer nearby and responsive to every search?
Types of Lawyers Googled
One reason is that every lawyer is not competent to practice in every substantive area. Ethically, lawyers are obligated to only represent a client if the lawyer has the required knowledge and skill necessary for the representation. So if someone is looking for a lawyer to represent them in a bankruptcy situation, for example, the lawyer who comes up on a search may or may not be able to help.
Internet searches for lawyers give us a glimpse into the types of lawyers people are seeking. As you can see from the first map below, across the states, there is much overlap as to the types of lawyers sought through Google. There are highly recurring types of searches on topics related to family law (divorce, custody) and transportation (traffic, DUI). Bankruptcy (whether it is personal or corporate is unknown) is the highest search term for lawyers in nine states.
There is a huge variance in the number of lawyers per capita across the states. And the location of lawyers within the state varies by urban versus rural settings. The “misdistribution” of lawyers contributes to a gap between people seeking low-cost legal services for basic needs, such as family law issues, and lawyers available and willing to provide those services. Some estimate that up to 80% of the civil legal needs of low and moderate income people go unmet.
Ratio of Lawyers by State
The second map displays the distribution of lawyers by identifying the ratio of lawyers per 10,000 people in each state (and the District of Columbia). The disparity is huge, ranging from a high of 788 lawyers per 10,000 people in the District of Columbia to just 20 lawyers per 10,000 residents of Arkansas.
If you are in an urban center, a search for a ‘lawyer near me’ will be more successful. However, lawyers are not as prevalent in rural areas. In states with the lowest ratio of lawyers per capita, lawyers are often completely absent from the rural areas, such as in Arkansas, Idaho and Iowa. In South Dakota, the “misdistribution” of lawyers became so severe that the legislature passed a law incentivizing lawyers to live and work in rural areas.
Access to Legal Services
Access to lawyers and the courts is integral to our country founded on the rule of law. Living by the rule of law means Americans, whether city dwellers or farmers, should have adequate ways to address their legal issues such as domestic violence, wage and labor issues, traffic, housing and foreclosure matters. Having the protection of the law should not depend on whether one lives in an urban versus rural location.
At the Commission on Professionalism, we are concerned about the fact that many people do not have access to legal services. We promote the delivery of quality legal services where and how they are needed.