The Washington, D.C., suburb of Columbia Heights boasts a high number of lawyers per capita.
But the number is dropping as new counties such as Montgomery County, Baltimore and Montgomery, Maryland, have expanded their jurisdictions to accommodate the flood of new lawyers.
The latest census shows Columbia Heights has 2,200 law offices per capita, a number that has remained steady since 2000, when it was 3,900.
That number has dropped to 1,900 today.
Montgomery County has a population of nearly 1.8 million and is expanding to accommodate an expected surge of lawyers.
Montgomery, where the mayor is running for re-election, has more than 2,000 law offices and is expected to double its size.
In the suburbs of Bethesda, Maryland and Rockville, Maryland in 2017, law offices held steady at 2,400.
“We have had a real uptick of people looking for a job, a real increase of people wanting to practice law,” said Dan Gentry, executive director of the Montgomery County Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal services to the region.
Gentry said the number of offices in the county has doubled since the mid-2000s.
Law offices in Washington, the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland have seen an increase of about 8% a year in the last decade.
The Washington metropolitan area had an increase in lawyers of about 6% in the five years from 2015 to 2019, according to the latest census.
It had a 7.2% increase in the four years from 2000 to 2010.
In other words, there were about 20 more lawyers per person than there were in 2000, according the census.
But with the economy improving, more lawyers are choosing to move to the suburbs, said Robert Clements, a law professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
“They want to be closer to the people they know,” he said.
“The question is, will they be more efficient?
I think they are.”
A rise in legal work in Washington and Maryland has led to a shift in the number and types of law offices in these jurisdictions, said Tom Lomax, chief executive of the American Bar Association.
“In the past decade or so, the number has been pretty steady, and it’s not going to be as steady in the future,” Lomet said.
For example, in Maryland, there are more than 400 law offices to serve a population that is about half the size of Columbia.
But those numbers are falling, and the population is growing.
The number of legal offices has increased from about 800 in 2000 to nearly 900 today, according, the Census Bureau.
“It’s a fairly constant growth,” Lomsa said.
He said the trend toward greater numbers of lawyers in the suburbs is a trend that’s already happening in some states.
The United States is now home to about 3.3 million lawyers, according a report from the Urban Institute.
It was 2.7 million in 1990.
It has risen slightly to 4.4 million in 2021.
There are about a quarter as many lawyers in Maryland as in the rest of the country.
“I think that’s been a real benefit to the states,” Lomas said.
A more diverse population in the Washington metro area, and a growing number of law schools and law firms, has led many lawyers to move from Washington to places like Montgomery, said John Sutter, executive vice president for public policy at the National Association of Attorneys General.
“If you look at the size, the demographics are not as diverse as they were in Washington,” he added.
Law firms in the region are also increasingly relying on technology to handle more complicated and complex cases.
Technology has enabled the delivery of more information to lawyers.
“With the advent of technology, they’re not just using it to go through all the filings and sort out all the issues, they are using it now to provide more information about the case and to get the client’s side of the story, to get more information from the witness and the lawyer, to provide a better understanding of the case,” Lomesa said of lawyers now working in Washington.
“That’s a huge benefit to their clients.”
The trend has not just benefited lawyers, but to the broader economy, according Gentry.
Law schools are also growing in the metro area.
“Law schools are the new high school,” he explained.
“These are new high schools that are becoming more selective.”
Law schools in Washington are attracting more lawyers because of the diversity and the diversity of the legal profession.
“When you have a diverse group of people, it makes a lot of difference,” Loma said.