TaxProf Blog op-ed: More on the 2016 New Lawyer Job Projections, by Theodore P. Seto (Loyola-L.A.):
On Dec. 10, Matt Leichter published a response to my TaxProf Blog op-ed of Nov. 19 analyzing new Bureau of Labor Statistics projections of the likely demand for lawyers over the next several years. While I am flattered that anyone would spend an entire article responding to my rather pedestrian analysis, I am bemused to be accused of “optimism” and “exuberance.” If I am guilty of these faults, it is entirely unintentional. My goal is to be as ploddingly fact-based as possible.
In particular, Mr. Leichter quotes me as claiming that “by 2016, the number of law graduates [will] exceed the new projected annual job growth rate, creating ‘a significant excess of demand over supply.’” What I actually wrote was: “Based on 2012 and 2013 matriculation rates and historical drop-out rates, we should expect 40,082 ABA-accredited law school graduates in 2015 and 35,954 in 2016. If the new BLS projections are accurate, we should see demand and supply in relative equilibrium in 2015 and a significant excess of demand over supply beginning in 2016. (These estimates only take into account JD-required jobs. Demand from JD-advantage employers is not included.)”
Please note my use of the word “IF.” I do not and cannot vouch for the accuracy of the new BLS projections. I am a lawyer, not a labor economist. But IF those projections are correct, we may soon see an end to the horrible jobs environment we have faced for half a decade. I cannot speak for all law schools, but I know that at my school, permanent full-time employment in JD-required or JD-advantage jobs 10 months after graduation has increased by double-digit percentages in each of the last two years.
In further defense of my post, I would note that in the past commentators have relied heavily on BLS projections to support predictions of doom: Above the Law, Inside the Law School Scam, Slate, and, of course, Mr. Leichter himself. The econometricians at BLS believe that their new methodology – which they are applying to all job categories in all industries, nationwide -- will be more accurate than their old one. Mr. Leichter, a lawyer, disagrees. Time will tell.
Finally, I want to assure Mr. Leichter that I agree with him on many issues – most importantly on the unsustainability of law school tuition increases in excess of the rate of increase of lawyer compensation. Law schools must find ways to provide more value added at lower cost. We should insist that rating organizations like US News stop ranking schools higher simply because they charge and spend more. I would add that over the past several years Mr. Leichter has performed a valuable public service by bringing to light much otherwise difficult-to-access statistical data.
But we should all remember (myself included) that the best legal counsellors, when faced with new evidence, adjust their advice accordingly. They do not simply attack the evidence.