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Monday, December 10, 2012

Deborah Jones Merritt: The 25-Year Recession in Law Graduate Employment

Deborah Jones Merritt (Ohio State), Recession:

Merritt
The percentage of graduates obtaining jobs as practicing lawyers, in other words, has been falling since 1988. The percentage drops sharply during recessions, and recovers modestly in the post-recession years, but those recoveries never match pre-recession highs. Each peak is lower than the last, and the trend since 2007 is straight down.

These facts suggest four things to me:  (1) Overall, the U.S. employment market is still in serious trouble. (2) The market for entry-level lawyers is suffering even more--it has been declining since 1988. Even if the market returns to the "highs" of 2005-2007, one quarter of graduates will not find work that requires bar admission. (3) Demand for entry-level attorneys will not, in any event, return to 2005-2007 levels. The above trend-line suggests this is unlikely, and there are plenty of real market forces (technology, outsourcing, unbundling) powering that trend-line. (4) Law schools, large law firms, and NALP (which represents schools and large firms) have been obscuring these trends by highlighting "total employment," BigLaw hiring, and BigLaw salaries.

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Comments

Or jobs in business and finance and federal government started to become higher paid and more attractive in the early 1980s, and those with JD degrees have been going where the best opportunities are.

There's no longterm decline in overall employment since 1985. Nor is there any long term decline in average wages of those with JDs--in fact, there's an increase.

Nice try, DJM.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 10, 2012 9:34:06 AM

Yes anon,

Because those jobs in banking and the federal government are so easy to get, and value the lauded versatility of a three year graduate program spent reading 19th century court opinions. Yes, indeed.

I am sure that there has been an increase in the average wage for attorneys since 1985. Inflation and all that. I am also sure that the the increase in law school tuition during that time has outstripped the increase in attorney salaries by several orders of magnitude - and even more if we deign to include the tens of thousands of law school grads every year who fail to join the profession. And no, they aren't all working at Goldman Sachs, Google, or hedge funds.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 10, 2012 1:28:38 PM

"Or jobs in business and finance and federal government started to become higher paid and more attractive in the early 1980s, and those with JD degrees have been going where the best opportunities are."

Cite please.

Posted by: john | Dec 10, 2012 9:12:23 PM