TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron
Pepperdine University School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tamanaha: The Coming Crunch for Law Schools

Following up on yesterday's post, NY Times -- The Lawyer Surplus, State by StateThe Coming Crunch for Law Schools, by Brian Tamanaha (Washington U.):

The New York Times released a chart yesterday showing that law schools are churning out far more lawyers than the number of available legal positions. ... Law schools now pump out about 45,000 graduates annually at a time when the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects about 28,000 new lawyer positions per year.

Why are law schools enrolling so many students when employment prospects for graduates are so poor? Because they must. In the past two decades law faculties have gotten bigger. AALS tallied 7,421 full time faculty in 1990, and 10,965 in 2008. Some of this overall increase comes from newly accredited schools, but most of it is faculty expansion: student-faculty ratios have been cut almost by half during this period.

Bigger faculties must be paid for through some combination of more bodies (J.D. and LL.M) and higher tuition. Tuition already goes up every year as it is, so the number of revenue paying students cannot be reduced substantially. It's that basic. ...

Law schools will soon suffer the consequences of this expansion. The chart below tracks the number of applicants against the number of first year students from 1990 to the present. As it shows, law schools exhibit a one-way ratchet: when applications drop, enrollment remains steady; when applications rise, enrollment goes up.


This pattern--explained by our need for revenue to fund our operation--portends tough times ahead for law schools. ... If the drop in applicants continues, while enrollment stays up, schools will reach deeper in the pool to fill their classes, bringing in students with lower qualifications. ... Law schools have enjoyed flush times for more than a decade. Tough times are ahead.

Update #1: Stephen Bainbridge (UCLA), Consolidation in the Law School Industry:

Unless law schools voluntarily start consolidating and downsizing, which seems about as likely as yours truly winning the Miss America pageant, we face a long-term prospect of ever increasing competition for fewer and fewer applicants. Long before the day comes that there are fewer applicants than available seats, we will be in very big trouble. Budgets will have to be slashed to pay financial aid to attract students. Admission standards will have to go down. Relations between deans, faculty, and students will be increasingly fraught. What we have here is a classic collective action problem. Unfortunately, what we don't have is a market in which to develop solutions to that problem.

Update #2: Reader Loren R. Thacker provided this chart, using the NY Times data to rank the states by the number of law jobs available per law grad passing the bar:

State

Annual Jobs

 


Annual Pass Bar

 


Annual Surplus
Jobs Per Grad

Rank

Wash D.C.

618

273

-345

 2.26

1

Wisconsin

262

248

-14

 1.06

2

Nebraska

112

109

-3

 1.03

3

Vermont

51

55

4

 0.93

4

Oklahoma

326

387

61

 0.84

5

Michigan

862

1,024

162

 0.84

6

Delaware

116

141

25

 0.82

7

Idaho

128

157

29

 0.82

8

Utah

308

401

93

 0.77

9

Florida

2,027

2,782

755

 0.73

10

Arizona

440

607

167

 0.72

11

Texas

2,155

3,052

897

 0.71

12

Virginia

956

1,375

419

 0.70

13

Arkansas

152

227

75

 0.67

14

Washington

619

935

316

 0.66

15

Alabama

295

455

160

 0.65

16

Mississippi

173

268

95

 0.65

17

Georgia

779

1,217

438

 0.64

18

Alaska

41

66

25

 0.62

19

New Hampshire

92

154

62

 0.60

20

Ohio

686

1,194

508

 0.57

21

Colorado

547

967

420

 0.57

22

Indiana

339

602

263

 0.56

23

Nevada

219

392

173

 0.56

24

Kentucky

261

478

217

 0.55

25

Kansas

190

351

161

 0.54

26

Iowa

155

290

135

 0.53

27

Tennessee

389

735

346

 0.53

28

California

3,307

6,258

2,951

 0.53

29

North Dakota

33

63

30

 0.52

30

W. Virginia

100

191

91

 0.52

31

S Carolina

262

506

244

 0.52

32

Montana

81

163

82

 0.50

33

Nation Ave

26,239

53,508

27,269

 0.49

N/A

Maine

75

153

78

 0.49

34

Oregon

291

594

303

 0.49

35

Louisiana

357

731

374

 0.49

36

Rhode Island

102

209

107

 0.49

37

North Carolina

503

1,032

529

 0.49

38

South Dakota

38

83

45

 0.46

39

Illinois

1,394

3,073

1,679

 0.45

40

New Mexico

134

298

164

 0.45

41

Pennsylvania

869

1,943

1,074

 0.45

42

Maryland

560

1,277

717

 0.44

43

Minnesota

378

888

510

 0.43

44

Hawaii

76

179

103

 0.42

45

Missouri

362

943

581

 0.38

46

Connecticut

316

880

564

 0.36

47

Wyoming

40

113

73

 0.35

48

Massachusetts

715

2,165

1,450

 0.33

49

New Jersey

844

3,037

2,193

 0.28

50

New York

2,100

9,787

7,687

 0.21

51

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2011/06/tamanaha-the-.html

Legal Education | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c4eab53ef01538f864934970b

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Tamanaha: The Coming Crunch for Law Schools:

Comments

Tisk Tisk Prof. Bainbridge. Don't pick on Irvine.

They are a "top 20 law school" (that hasn't produced 1 single lawyer yet, but nevermind that)

Don't you know that Chemerinsky has made it his personal mission to place all whopping 60 students in his inagural class, and therefore, Irvine is not subject to such analyses? And, they are changing legal education as we speak!

Can't wait for that "all Irvine Law grads employed despite tough economic times" Irvine press release coming in 2012.

Posted by: Anteater | Jun 29, 2011 5:03:20 PM

But won't the "crunch" come for law schools like Tamanaha's, which are expensive without really being in the top tier, before it comes for state universities which--for all their many flaws--still fulfill a real need?

Posted by: Michael A. Livingston | Jun 29, 2011 5:31:06 PM

Nice analysis.

I'm surprised no one has pointed this out yet, but DC doesn't really have a surplus of available positions. Most lawyers in the area take the Virginia or the Maryland bar, and then waive in to DC. So bar passage rates do not actually reflect the number of lawyers able to take a job in the DC area. It's much greater than it would seem.

Posted by: Liz | Jun 30, 2011 12:31:03 AM

Piggy-backing on Liz's analysis, Wisconsin lawyers do not have to take the bar exam. That is, students who go to public law schools in Wisconsin do not have to take the Wisconsin bar, only those coming in from other states. Based on what my friends say, Wisconsin is about as bad as Minnesota.

Posted by: Zac K | Jun 30, 2011 8:49:46 AM

Bar passage rates cannot be compared to available new jobs. Many law grads (particularly those hoping to become litigators) take and pass more than one bar exam, especially in large multi-state urban areas such as New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Most of my classmates at Georgetown took New York or D.C., plus New Jersey or Pennsylvania. Years later, I also took Maryland.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Jun 30, 2011 10:28:47 AM

but-but-but.. it says right here Law School is a GOOD thing:

E A
Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys
B
Don't let them pick guitars and drive them old trucks
E
Make them be doctors and lawyers and such
A
Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys
B
They'll never stay home and they're always alone
E
Even with someone they love

Posted by: dave schutz | Jun 30, 2011 1:14:06 PM