Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Government's Data Collection Change Will 'Solve' the Law School Crisis

BLS (2015)Matt Leichter, How the Transparency Movement Reinflated the Law School Bubble:

[T]he Bureau of Labor Statistics is changing its employment projections methodology, specifically its measure of how many workers will be replaced in occupations in its 10-year projection periods—as opposed to the number of positions that the economy will create. ...

The BLS’s employment projections have long been a go-to source for law school critics. The ~24,000 projected annual lawyer job growth rates they showed every two years contrasted excellently with the ~40,000 law graduates each year (and the even greater number of bar admits). No longer. ... It writes ...

Not all law school graduates become lawyers, but the ABA conducts a census of employment outcomes for all law school graduates in order to count the number who find employment in positions that require bar passage (effectively, lawyers). Since ABA began collecting this data in 2011, the number of graduates finding employment in such positions has averaged 29,000 per year. Because some graduates who don’t immediately find such positions may become lawyers later in their career (for example, many graduate become law clerks, a position that does not require bar passage, for a few years before becoming lawyers), this number should be less than the total number of new entrants into the occupation.

Under the current method, BLS projects an average of 19,650 job openings per year, while the new method projects 41,460 openings per year. Again, no direct comparison between the ABA number and the BLS numbers is possible due to conceptual differences, but the results under the current method are significantly below the actual number of new graduates finding work in the occupation. The new method projects a higher number of openings, which allows for additional entrants not immediately after completion of a law degree.

Okay, data on law graduate unemployment has actually been around for many years, e.g. the NALP and the Official Guide, crude though it was. I’ve written about the strong correlation between falling proportions of graduates finding bar-passage-required jobs and graduates taking JD-advantage jobs or not finding any work. This is evidence of a saturated lawyer market, even if it’s caused in part by slack aggregate demand.

Percent Employed by Status (NALP)

[T]he irony—and this is really incredible—is that all those demands for transparency in the employment data, after accusations of misrepresentation and deceit, have perversely led the government to (indirectly) compare the number of graduates in bar-passage-required jobs to its current estimates and use it as evidence that those graduates must be finding bar-passage-required jobs long after graduation.

Legal Education | Permalink


I don't think a 13% wash-out rate for attorneys is the problem. The wash out rate should probably be higher.

Rather, the problem is that the current system washes out the wrong people. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, there is a disconnect between what is taught in law school and what the practice of law actually entails. This results in new entrants with academic credentials who are terrible attorneys.

Second, it is really difficult to determine whether someone is a good attorney based on their resume, cover letter and an interview. The only way to really tell if someone is a talented lawyers is to watch them practice for a while.

So essentially, our entry level hiring system is built on imperfect indicators and these decisions send waves throughout the entire profession. It annoys me when I see a 25 year litigator who is borderline incompetent still practicing. It annoys me when I see a big law associate go into court after billing their client 30k to churn paper without figuring out the actual issue and then getting their butt handed to them by opposing counsel.

100% of law grads are not willing ready and able to practice. In fact most are not. What need is a better system to figure out (1) which ones are ready willing and able; (2) which ones can through experience become ready, willing and able; and (3) kicking those who can't to the curb. Because right now there are too many bad attorneys practicing and there are probably at least some who would have been good but never got the chance to show it.

Posted by: Youngster | Nov 19, 2014 8:54:19 AM

Forgive me if I wonder again why it is a bad thing that 12.9% of law grads are not employed. I believe this is a bad thing if–and only if–we indulge the unwarranted and arrogant assumption that 100% of our law grads are ready, willing, and able to practice law or some law-related profession. I graduated from a top-14 school and know for a fact that less than 100% of my colleagues were ready, willing, and able law graduates. I expect this is true of the other 13 “top” schools, and even more true for the lower-ranked 186 or so law schools. And indulging a more likely assumption–that the marketplace more or less adequately sorts law grads and more or less efficiently distributes the less-qualified grads to the bottom of the employment heap–the top 81.1% of grads are finding employment in the law, related areas, further study, or other professions. Isn’t this preferable to the situation in other professions, such as medicine? After all, do you really want the services of a physician who graduated 125th out of 125 in her med class? Would you want to be represented by a lawyer who graduated 149th out of 149 in his law class?

Posted by: Publius Novus | Nov 18, 2014 1:04:36 PM