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Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, March 7, 2014

Today's Law Grads Will Enjoy the 'Most Robust Legal Market That Has Ever Existed in This Country'

René Reich-Graefe (Western New England), Keep Calm and Carry On, 27 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 55 (2014):

This Essay examines some of the hard data available for today’s legal market and develops very basic forecasts and hypotheses about what the future will bring for the U.S. legal profession during the next decades. In conclusion, it projects that recent law school graduates and current and future law students are standing at the threshold of the most robust legal market that ever existed in this country — a legal market which will grow, exist for, and coincide with, their entire professional careers. Using admittedly back-of-the-envelope math based on current trends affecting the legal market (in particular, lawyer retirements, population growth, and additional demand for legal services driven by increased volume and complexity), the Essay estimates over 840,000 new employment opportunities for lawyers between 2010 and 2030 alone. In other words, the Essay projects that, statistically, the legal profession market is moving into the direction of close-to-guaranteed legal employment for all law school graduates over the course of the next two decades.

[T]he remaining pages of this essay are ... intended merely as a brief exercise in some eclectic apologetics of the present state of legal education for those of us who refuse to become card-carrying members of the contemporary ‘Hysterias-R-Us’ legal lemming movement. Thus, as a mere starting premise, the following six projections examine some of the hard data available about today’s legal market and provide some very basic forecasts and hypotheses about what the future will bring for the legal profession during the next decades—without the hype or any need to sell advertisement space.

  1. Over half of currently practicing lawyers in this country will retire over the next fifteen to twenty years).
  2. Over the next ten years, the current annual retirement rate of lawyers will double; over the next fifteen years, it will triple.
  3. The U.S. population will increase by over one hundred million people, i.e., by one third, until 2060, thus, increasing total demand for legal services accordingly.
  4. The two largest generational wealth transfers in the history of mankind— dubbed the ‘Great Transfer’ and the even ‘Greater Transfer’—will occur in the United States over the course of the next thirty to forty years, thus, increasing total demand for legal services even further.
  5. Everything in the law, by definition, will continue to change, increase in volume, and become more complicated and complex—a trend further accelerated by the developments discussed in 3. and 4. above.
  6. As a result of Projections 1 through 5 above, recent law school graduates and current and future law students are standing at the threshold of the most robust legal market that ever existed in this country—a legal market which will grow, exist for, and coincide with, their entire professional career. ...

Law is about both substance and perception; it has both imperative and expressive functions. At least for our own sake—if not society’s sake as a whole—we, as lawyers and legal educators, should be more measured in what we believe and express is; what we believe and express should be; and what we believe and express will be. And, in doing so, be as rational and thorough, as empirical and scientific, and as practical and equitable about it as we can be—which is what we owe society, what we owe our law students (former, current and future), and what we owe ourselves as a profession and as professionals. Hindsight may show that our current collective deflationary treatment of legal education and its value—at least, for purposes of income generation (as opposed to its holistic value for both individual and society)—is only a footnote, and an interesting incident of mass hysteria, in the early history of the twenty-first century. The above-mentioned article in the Washington Post speculated, in its opening paragraph, that a “perhaps permanent—sharp constriction in the job market for new lawyers” has occurred. In the end, nothing could be further from the truth.

(Hat Tip: Brian Leiter.)

Legal Education | Permalink



The BLS data is generated by teams of labor economists. Rene whatshisname from Western New England, with no training in economics, opines that based on demographics and assumptions about how things work in the U.S. Labor Market (notwithstanding the fact that until 1997, he lived in Berlin), is able to forecast that though more people have entered the profession each year from the mid-1970s until 2013, that we're on the eve of the "Most Robust Legal Environment" ever? And Leiter has the gumption to cite to this as "facts" and "data"? It is complete horsefeathers. I've read opposing counsel's expert disclosures in slam dunk cases that had better arguments and more "data." The academy looks desperate. Do not deceive yourselves. You are harming people.

Posted by: Jojo | Mar 7, 2014 2:32:32 PM

Did anyone else notice that at the start of this paper/article, the author states she is merely developing "basic forecasts and hypotheses," but in the final sentence, transmogrifies them to "the truth?"

I would ask about the prof's credentials and experience in making economic forecasts, but will content myself this Friday afternoon to pointing out that the 840,000 estimate is massively beyond what the BLS, which is chock-full of labor economists, estimates for the legal profession (their guess is some 190,000 new attorney positions between now and 2024, including attrition and retirements) - and that at the moment, only 33% of WNELS graduates are finding legal jobs, and it located in a city that I believe is still in receivership some ten years after it entered it.

I'll let others tackle the substantive and pseudo-substantive points of this essay. It seems entirely too silly for me to read this weekend, especially with Adam Bede on loan from the local library.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Mar 7, 2014 2:54:47 PM

According to Law School Transparency, barely a third of Western New England's class of 2012 found full-time/bar-required work within 9 months of graduation.

Maybe Prof. Reich-Graefe should wait until his school is within only 10 points of the already woeful national average for full-time/bar-required employment before he tells prospective students that their degrees will one day become a license to print money.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Mar 7, 2014 4:47:42 PM

For those who don't like to slog their way through papers like this, just read Footnote 2 on the first page to get a sense of the analytical power of this paper. Instead of blaming Campos or Tamanaha for the scamblog movement, it's all the fault of the New York Times which has manufactured this story in order to keep readers and advertisers in a world of declining print readership. You can't make this stuff up.

Posted by: PaulB | Mar 7, 2014 9:03:29 PM

"Reporting on (and exaggerating) the shortcomings of the current legal education
market must be one of the cheapest means possible in order to produce (serious-looking) editorial coverage for purposes of bringing in and maintaining readership and, accordingly, advertising revenue"

So the people who manage the NYTimes got together in a room and asked 'what topic can we write about and distort the importance of to pique the interest or our readers and increase advertising revenue?' And the answer was obviously law schools. And this decision is what is driving the business model of the NYTimes today. Obviously.

PaulB - I noticed the same thing you did and quit skimming the paper at that point.

Posted by: Karl | Mar 8, 2014 1:56:19 AM

Things like this are very easy to say when you have a job.

Posted by: michael livingston | Mar 8, 2014 3:29:20 AM

I find it interesting that no one has made a substantive criticism of the paper. Comments insulting his name or his law school, or saying that he lived most of his life in Berlin are irrelevant and silly. The paper consists of facts and data. If you want to attack the paper, attack them. Everything else is irrelevant.

Posted by: Mark | Mar 8, 2014 11:55:50 AM

I find it interesting that Prof. Reich-Graefe urges us to look at the next twenty years as a time of “close-to-guaranteed legal employment.” See, when I researched schools in 2007, all of the law schools to which I was accepted had employment rates of 85%+ within 9 months of graduation, and median salaries at or above $90,000. With rates of employment and median salaries like that, who wouldn’t believe that almost everyone going to these law schools was practicing law or doing something else similarly worthwhile (and remunerative)? Back in 2007, I thought I was attending in the Age of Close-to-Guaranteed Legal Employment.

As it turns out, these employment rates were probably somewhat accurate, but no great effort was made to differentiate the full-time/bar-required outcomes from the rest. That would not have been so troublesome, had the schools also mentioned that these median salary figures came from an unrepresentative minority of the class which had secured full-time/bar-required employment with a defined salary. Because of people like me and many of my peers, law schools were forced to define their terms more strictly, and suddenly employment rates of 85%+ became full-time/bar-required employment rates of 55% to 60%.

But nothing much has changed, really. If you add all the jobs together, including the ones that nobody needed a JD to get, law schools have not fallen that far from our “peak.” If one ignores the continued gaps in reported salaries and throws out a few dozen “outliers” for every school, then the old median salary figures can easily be reached again. I just wonder if Prof. Reich-Graefe really means “close-to-guaranteed legal employment” as normal human beings would understand it, or as law schools sold it to prospective students for the last ten years.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Mar 8, 2014 6:26:43 PM

Here's a full and substantive (hat tip to the prior commenter!) response to Prof. Reich-Graefe's dubious claims:

Posted by: Law school enslaved debtor | Mar 10, 2014 6:49:41 AM

Total dreck. Apparently nobody can predict when things will go bad, but everyone can predict when things will return to good. It reminds me of the real estate industry before and after the meltdown - before the meltdown they were saying that housing prices never went down and you better buy now before you are priced out. After the meltdown, their new mantra was that it has never been a better time to buy.

Posted by: Realtor | Mar 12, 2014 6:39:32 AM