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2021 Economic Survey offers snapshot of economic trends among Missouri lawyers

Missouri lawyers who want to compare their firms’ performances to other law firms may find valuable information in the latest version of “The Missouri Bar Economic Survey – 2021,” which was released today. 

The report provides economic information about Missouri lawyers who practice as solo practitioners, government lawyers, and corporate counsel, as well as those who work in law-related and non-legal professions. Some sections of the report include data from previous surveys to demonstrate trends over the last few years. 

Since 1958, The Missouri Bar has conducted a survey every other year to gain insight into the economics of law practice in Missouri. The 2021 version provides a snapshot of the economic performance of the legal profession in the state as of Dec. 31, 2020. 

To read the full content of “The Missouri Bar Economic Survey – 2021,” Missouri lawyers may sign in to their MoBar.org account and visit MoBar.org/economicsurvey. 


The survey was administered in the summer of 2021 to a random sampling of 8,000 lawyers licensed in Missouri, with 24.7% responding to the survey. 

Below are some of the highlights of the survey. 

Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic 

About equal percentages of respondents had increased caseloads as had decreased caseloads. Likewise, similar percentages received pay raises as received pay cuts. 

About 57.5% of female respondents experienced increased family/home demands compared to 48.7% of male respondents. About 85.5% of female respondents worked remotely compared to 78.3% of male respondents. 

Income overview 

Missouri lawyers reported incomes from six categories: private practice; corporate law-related; government law-related; nongovernmental agency/non-profit; law school/education related; and non-law-related. In 2020, incomes ranged between $0 to $12 million with the highest median income ($150,000) reported by those working in corporate law-related positions. 

From 2019-2020, income increased for 22% of respondents, stayed the same for 23.1%, and decreased for more than half (54.8%). 

Income by gender 

In 2020, the median income for female respondents from all types of employment was 77% of the median income of male respondents from all types of employment. By comparison, the median income in 2018 for female respondents was 71% of the median income of male respondents and in 2016 was 64% of the total median income of male respondents. 

Income by age 

Respondents 46-65 years old reported the highest annual median income in 2020. Comparatively, from 2010-2018, respondents 56-65 reported the highest annual median income. 

In 2020, the median incomes across all age groups – except those 31-35 years old – were lower compared to the previous survey. Lawyers 30 years old and younger reported the lowest median income in 2020. 

Compensation for newly admitted lawyers in private practice 

The number of newly admitted lawyers in private practice who are paid $30,000 or less annually continues to decrease. In 2020, these lawyers accounted for 0.9% of survey respondents, compared to 5% in 2010. 

In 2020, 23.1% of new lawyers in private practice were paid $60,000-$75,000, while 20.1% were paid $45,001-$60,000. Slightly more than 11% were paid $75,001-$90,000. 

Changes in employment, underemployment, and unemployment 

In 2020, 15.4% of respondents changed jobs. Around two-thirds of these respondents reported their unemployment was somewhat due to the pandemic, while 36% reported it was completely due to the pandemic. The unemployment rate among survey respondents increased from 2.1% in 2018 to 2.8% in 2020. 

Student loans 

Approximately 45% of the 2020 survey respondents reported owing money on their student loans. That percentage has remained consistent since the 2010 survey. 

More than half of Missouri lawyers who received their licenses to practice law in 2020 owed more than $80,000 in student loans, with 15.3% owing more than $200,000. 

Nearly 6% of all survey respondents reported owing more than $200,000 in student loans. 

Sole practitioners 

In 2020, nearly one-third of respondents engaged in full-time or part-time private practice identified themselves as sole practitioners. Men accounted for 68.3% of sole practitioners, while women accounted for 31.7%. 

The percentage of sole practitioners who have designated a successor was 66.4%, an increase from 60.7% in 2018. 

Flat fee services and limited scope representation 

In 2020, 55.6% of survey respondents reported offering flat fees for some services in lieu of hourly billing, with 16.7% charging flat fees for most services. Slightly less than 28% reported that they do not offer flat fees for any services. 

The number of respondents or their law firms offering limited scope representation services decreased from 64.8% in 2018 to 62.9% in 2020. 

Payment of fees by credit card and e-check  

In 2020, 68.5% of survey respondents reported accepting credit cards – an increase from 59.5% in 2016 and 65.4% in 2018. 

Nearly 48% of the respondents in private practice reported accepting e-checks for fee payments in 2020. 

Private practice support staff 

Of survey respondents in private practice, 58.3% reported paying legal secretaries' annual salaries of more than $40,000 in 2020. Salaries for legal assistants/paralegals varied greatly, with most being in the range of $32,001-$64,000. 

Advertising and marketing 

Over the past five surveys (2012-2020), law firms have consistently reported their websites as the primary type of firm advertising. Social media remained in third place in 2020 after rising from fourth in 2016 and sixth in 2014. Networking or social events, professional organizations, and speaking engagements continue to remain popular types of advertising. 

Main sources of new clients 

Referrals from clients and friends remain the primary sources of new clients, closely followed by referrals from other lawyers or professionals. Another major source of new clients is the positive reputation of the lawyer in the practice. These continue to rank well ahead of advertising, social media, and lawyer referral services/other professional referral services as sources for new clients. 

Visit the Missouri Bar’s Member Portal to view the full report and access additional no-cost resources to help you even better serve your clients. Stay up to date on the bar’s lawyer resources using #MOLawyersBenefit.