Paul L. Caron

Thursday, September 6, 2012

2010-2020 Math: 200,000 Lawyer Jobs, 450,000 New Lawyers

Deborah Jones Merritt (Ohio State), More Bad News From the BLS:

I posted earlier this week about the Bureau of Labor Statistics projections for attorney job openings. To recap briefly, the BLS projects only 218,800 openings between 2010 and 2020--or 21,880 openings per year. Accredited law schools are currently producing about 45,000 JDs per year, more than twice the number of available jobs. Even if schools cut enrollment by 20%, a relatively dramatic move, we will finish the decade with more than 200,000 JDs who can't find jobs as lawyers.

But that's just the beginning of the bad news. Those 218,800 projected jobs are not all full-time, secure jobs with good salaries and benefits. The BLS counts all positions -- part-time, full-time, temporary, or permanent -- as "jobs." (I confirmed that fact directly with a helpful BLS staff member.) Notably for the legal profession, the projected openings include individuals who will open solo practices. ...

But even if we ... assume that the BLS has correctly targeted the number of lawyer jobs, law schools are producing far too many lawyers. It is sheer arrogance to suggest that we can force the economy to create more lawyer jobs simply because our graduates are bright and eager. And it is dangerously deceptive to keep encouraging large numbers of students to go to law school because "the economy will turn around" or "there will be more jobs when you graduate."  The BLS has already assumed that the economy will turn around:  A fully turned, full-employment economy will produce 218,800 openings for lawyers this decade--leaving more than 200,000 new lawyers holding JD-sized debts and BA-sized jobs.

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Then why is that law schools - who are faced with this pressing (though, apparently, made up/exaggerated) crisis, and who are now doing everything they can to increase their graduates' employment rates and pad their own numbers (e.g. hiring their students in order to count them as employed) - haven't realized that there are hoards of non-legal employers looking to hire law grads? Tier one schools are posting openings for parking garage attendants, yet for some reason completely ignore the "multitude" of non-legal, professional jobs available to JDs?

Posted by: Anonymous | Sep 9, 2012 12:16:57 PM

Anon has a point. A multitude of jobs exist for JD candidates. I used to be a recruiter for Fortune 500 companies and regularly offered jobs to people who had JDs because I valued their education more highly than I did an MBA for jobs that required the analytical skill set you get from going to law school (ie contract analysis jobs, ethics departments, human resources, amongst others).

Speaking of Progressive, the insurance industry also loves JD candidates, especially for those claims-related jobs that rely heavily on tort knowledge. And all of these jobs I have referenced can easily pay as much or more than what a full-time law graduate would make working as a government attorney.

If people would stop being singularly focused (law degree equals law job or person is failure and law schools are bad) we can put this greatly exaggerated debate to rest. Yes, people need to approach law school with a "buyer beware" mentality because there is not a plethora of law jobs available, but if they desire the degree, the chance to practice, and the opportunity to be seen as a valuable commodity in Corporate America as well, let them make the choice to go to law school instead of trying to deter them with partial and slanted information and fear mongering.

Posted by: Kendall Isaac | Sep 8, 2012 6:59:01 AM

Certainly lots of people with law degrees are working in business. As retail clerks.

On the other hand we don't hear much from law schools about all of their grads that went on to work in non-attorney, professional positions in business, finance and government.

Posted by: Anonymous | Sep 6, 2012 9:15:17 PM

This highlights the fact that there is a need for several dramatic changes in American legal education. The numerical analysis above relating to the deficit in law jobs contrasted with the numbers of law graduates over the 2010-2020 period presumes that legal education will retain the same format and structure as currently exists and also that "being a lawyer" will essentially remain the same.

One justification we have long voiced about American legal education is that it teaches people "how to think", how to analyze and how to solve problems. IF that is true (and I think it is but to a lesser extent than our rhetoric claims) then legal educators do offer something unique. Certainly this potential clarity of thought and analysis has been my experience in a wide ranging set of venues in which I have worked with non-lawyers. So I think we do provide something fairly unique. I do not, however, consider it necessary to spend three to four years of higher post-graduate education developing that thought process.

Nor do I think that lawyers educated in US law schools are provided anything special with any consistency beyond perhaps the first 1.5 years of legal education (certainly 2 years at the max) and past that point the three year curriculum is an historical artifact that bears little relationship to the practice of law. So when we speak of "law jobs" and how many lawyers are needed we need to think about what we actually mean and consider what is necessary to do the tasks that we normally associate with lawyers in the traditional modes of operation.

The point I am making is that the traditional system needs to be "cracked open" and redefined in fundamental ways. Part of this is likely to mean that quite a few law schools should go out of business. Others should change dramatically in size and/or mission. On the traditional numbers alone that would seem to be inevitable. And it is something that ought to occur.

But it should also mean that the stranglehold of the American Bar Association and the state-by-state admission to practice system should be terminated as an unjustified and unjustifiable restraint of trade. If that occurs one can envision a right to practice law based on the ability to pass a job related examination on basic skills and knowledge (and the bar exam is not such an exam). Once that occurs then there is a strong likelihood that some exciting efforts to create innovative legal education will take place, considerably beyond the "nibbling at the edges" that currently is judged as "innovative".

The ironic result is that true innovation is likely to result in a significant expansion of people entitled to "practice law" in some aspect of the "game". The deficit in law jobs noted above is really one of how those jobs were defined, controlled and limited in the traditional paradigm. If others were able to open the range of legal work there is a strong likelihood that the vast unrepresented groups of people who do not have access to legal advice and representation due to its cost and impenetrability could obtain counseling and representation by a "new breed" of graduates entitled to practice law as a competitive business. Of course it has been a competitive business for quite some time but there have been very significant entry and market barriers to real competition that have deprived many people of access to sound legal advice and a chance at just resolution of their situations.

Posted by: David Barnhizer | Sep 6, 2012 6:03:46 PM

Anon, you sound like you're an academic because you have no idea what the job market for lawyers is right now. You honestly think that businesses want to hire lawyers with BA's in English and a JD from a second tier law school? Those poor kids are practically unemployable.

Posted by: HTA | Sep 6, 2012 4:01:30 PM

By 2020 we should be well beyond "Watson the Jeopardy Wizard" and well into "Oliver the Law Clerk."

Posted by: Will | Sep 6, 2012 2:40:09 PM

Law school whore-bot Anon (do you know Progressive Insurance's Flo-Bot?) must be running very, very low on juice when he/she/it is reduced to suggesting that President/Presidential candidates are likely alternative careers for the hundreds of thousands of surplus lawyers.

Does not compute...does not compute...does not compute...

Posted by: cas127 | Sep 6, 2012 2:35:47 PM

Golly gee! I guess some people with law degrees must be working in business or finance or government.

I hear one of them is the President and another is running for President.

Clearly this is an emergency! People with law degrees have attractive opportunities other than practicing law!

Posted by: Anon | Sep 6, 2012 2:15:07 PM

"It is sheer arrogance to suggest that we can force the economy to create more lawyer jobs simply because our graduates are bright and eager."

Agreed. It's also ridiculous to suggest that we can force the economy to create more lawyer jobs simply by making graduates more practice-ready, as many have suggested.

Posted by: Justin | Sep 6, 2012 2:14:31 PM

Sounds like legal services should be getting much more affordable soon.

Posted by: Len Burman | Sep 6, 2012 1:57:00 PM

Great news, so maybe the price of lawyers will go down.

Posted by: Daniel Hossley | Sep 6, 2012 1:50:33 PM

And 90% of those jobs are in government or compliance.

And because the stock market is so crappy, well let me tell you, there are a lot of "experienced" faces down at my local courthouse. They were old when I was clerking 12 years ago. And now, retire? No way. The practice of law is so far less lucrative these guys are scraping by. Even big PI settlements are spent before they get them. I know they wonder...what the hell happened?

So new grads are going up against a mass of red-nosed but experienced, effective, and hungry-to-work attorneys who should be chasing golf balls in Florida, instead of hustling family court for the few crumbs left over.

Posted by: Anthony E. Parent | Sep 6, 2012 12:28:41 PM