Vermont Home to Record Lawyer Population

April 28, 2004

Vermont has reached a new milestone: the number of lawyers is at a record level.

So is the number of lawyers per capita. Vermont now ranks in or near the top 10 states for its supply of lawyers.

Vermont has been adding more than 50 lawyers a year for decades.

In 1970, Vermont had 611 lawyers, one for every 728 people. The current tally from the state Bar Examiner’s Office shows a near-quadrupling, to 2,403. Factoring in Vermont’s population growth over those years, there is one lawyer in Vermont for every 257 people.

But few go to court.

“Vermont is not a more litigious place than elsewhere,” said Robert Paolini, an attorney who is executive director of the Vermont Bar Association.

“There were about 6,000 civil suit cases filed in 2003, give or take,” Paolini said. “Only 60 went to trial. Of criminal cases, 121 went to trial. So in terms of impaneling a jury and trying a case, it’s no more than 200 a year.”

The average Vermont lawyer “earns about as much money as a good teacher,” Paolini said. “That’s very different from New York, Pennsylvania or Connecticut.”

A 2004 state bar association survey found half of Vermont lawyers earn less than $60,000, and only 20 percent make more than $100,000.

It’s not for lack of working; the survey found more than two-thirds of lawyers work in excess of 40 hours a week.

Then why do people come to Vermont to practice law?

“With increased specialization and complexity of knowledge, and of the law, and of our relationships with one another, maybe having lawyers who can specialize is an advantage,” Paolini said.

Others said the trend reflects Vermont’s New England character.

“There is something Yankee about lawyers,” said Frank Bryan, University of Vermont political science professor and co-author of “Real Vermonters Don’t Milk Goats.”

“Think of the guy behind the counter, parsimonious and precise,” he said. “There’s the Vermont tradition of being careful, especially in commercial matters, and really that’s what a lawyer does. They’re very serious about minutia.”

Attorney General William Sorrell said the bumper crop of lawyers mirrors other highly educated professions.

“I suspect it is part of a larger trend in more highly educated urban flight,” he said. “It’s not just lawyers, but the medical profession, financial services, certainly high tech, too. It’s driven by people who want to live in Vermont.”

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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