A crucial caveat about the dollar figures in these reports: they are nominal dollars rather than inflation-adjusted. Between 1985 and 2009 the CPI doubled, while between 1997 and 2009 it increased by 33.7%. So, for example, when the survey measures how many Alabama attorneys were making $100,000 or more in 1985, that's equivalent to asking how many Alabama attorneys were making $200,000 or more in 2009, in real dollars. (The answer, by the way, is that 17% of Alabama attorneys were making $200K+ in 1985 in 2009 dollars, while 8.7% of Alabama attorneys were making $200K+ in 2009.)
More fun facts:
54% of Alabama attorneys were making at least $100,000 per year in 1985 in 2009 dollars, as compared to 28% in 2009.
23% of Alabama attorneys were making less than $25,000 in 2009.
37% were making less than $50,000. (The median level of years in the profession of respondents was 11 to 20).
In 1997 76% of Alabama attorneys were making at least $67,000 per year in 2009 dollars. In 2009 approximately 49% were making at least $67,000.
In 1997, 40% of Alabama attorneys were making at least $134,000 per year in 2009 dollars. In 2009 20% of Alabama attorneys were making at least that much.
A particularly telling statistic is that the starting salary for newly hired attorneys in 1998 in Alabama was only $44,100, in 2009 dollars, while the starting salary for newly hired attorneys in 2009 was between $75,000 and $100,000 (only the range is available for the latter year). What this means, of course, is that the relationship between starting salaries and salaries for experienced attorneys has (at least in Alabama) experienced a radical reversal over the course of the last 12-15 years. In the late 1990s starting salaries for attorneys in Alabama averaged about half of what all attorneys in the state were making, while today starting salaries are considerably higher than the average income of the state's attorneys as a whole.
The total number of active licensed attorneys in the state doubled between 1986 and 2010, and increased by a third between 1998 and 2010 (the fact that the total number of attorneys has increased at exactly the same rate as the CPI is either a coincidence or rather dark cosmic joke).
Again, what's particularly valuable about this sort of survey is that it gives us an idea of how the legal profession as a whole is changing, as opposed to NALP surveys about employment and salaries nine months after graduation, or worse yet figures about the going rate for BigLaw starting associates (Note that in real dollars the going rate for BigLaw went from $116,000 in 1997 to $160,000 in 2006 -- a fact which obviously has exactly zero relevance to lawyers in Alabama, who over roughly the same time frame were seeing their incomes contract by about a third).
And what do the people running Alabama's law schools have to say about this?
John Carroll, dean of Cumberland School of Law, said the job market was tougher for graduates then, but numbers for 2011 graduates show improvementThat statement, besides being false even on its own terms, is also largely irrelevant to the crisis this report illuminates. This blog has focused almost exclusively on the crisis in the American legal profession in regard to its effect on new graduates. But that is very much the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is much deeper -- much more structural and systematic -- than that new graduates can't get jobs, even though that fact by itself represents a significant crisis in its own right. The real problem is that, as Hyman Roth once put it in a related context, "this is the business we've chosen" -- and that business is falling apart.
"It is something that all law schools are concerned about, and they work hard at placing their graduates," he said. "Hopefully, it bottomed out in 2010 and it will be even better for 2012 graduates."
Addendum: Tuition changes at Alabama law schools between 2004-2005 and 2010-2011:
Cumberland: $23,758 to $32,900. Increase over inflation: 19.96%
Faulkner: $15,000 (2005) to $31,000. Increase over inflation: 79.03%
University of Alabama: (Resident) $8,150 to $15,760. Increase over inflation: 67.93%