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.
- Over half of currently practicing lawyers in this country will retire over the next fifteen to twenty years).
- Over the next ten years, the current annual retirement rate of lawyers will double; over the next fifteen years, it will triple.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)