Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Growth in Lawyer Employment

Michael Simkovic (Seton Hall), The Absence of Evidence for Structural Change: Growth in Lawyer Employment and Earnings:

There have been a lot of doom-and-gloom reports about layoffs and collapsing job opportunities for lawyers.  As we’ve noted before, the relevant question for valuing legal education is the boost to earnings from the law degree across occupations, not the more specific question of what is happening to lawyers, or even more specifically, big law firms. 

But for the sake of argument, focusing more narrowly on the under-inclusive category of lawyers only, what does the data actually show about lawyer employment?  ... Lawyer employment is growing.  This is true both in absolute numbers, and also relative to overall employment.  In other words, lawyers are becoming a larger share of the U.S. workforce. 

Simkovic 1

The practice of law is also becoming more lucrative, at least over the long term.

According to a recent draft paper by Richard Sander and E. Douglass Williams, after controlling for changes in the demographic composition of the legal profession, Sander and Williams find long-term growth in real (inflation-adjusted) lawyer earnings.

Simkovic 2

Growth in earnings and employment has been slower in recent years than in the past, to be sure, but that is generally true across the economy. The case for massive structural change in the legal profession eroding the value of a law degree is not well supported by the data.

Matt Leichter, Lawyer Employment Grows in 2014, Wages Flat:

Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) updated its Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program data for 2014, and since the topic of what the BLS programs are actually measuring came up in the context of the latest analysis on the alleged J.D. premium, now is a good time to report on the data. Here is what lawyer employment looks like over time based on various BLS measures.

Lawyer Employment by BLS Measure

... As for lawyers’ wages, they’re largely flat, but the median has fallen since 2009.

W&S Lawyer & Paralegal Hourly Wages (Constant $)

Legal Education | Permalink


It has been seven years since the Collapse. The market for full-time employment in the law, excluding solos and firms, of 2-10 remains tepid at best (52% in my year, around 57% now). Given the massive disparity in starting salaries between FT/BR and JDA outcomes, where the JDA median is around the FT/BR 25th percentile, I don't think that this means a little less than half of the last seven graduating classes have just been noncommittal about the practice of law in the first nine months of their careers. NALP's data set has the virtue of capturing almost all of the recent graduates in the early stages of their careers, when it is decided if you will get a meaningful chance to practice law, but it's not as helpful to Mike's theory that we will all be millionaires one day if we are simply patient and pay our law schools whatever they ask.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Apr 1, 2015 8:07:46 AM

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Wait . . . maybe not.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Apr 1, 2015 6:42:33 AM

1. "“It’s hard to make sense of a lot of what Lumina is advocating on student loans unless you think of how it would benefit Sallie Mae,” says Michael Simkovic, an associate professor at Seton Hall." [the linked article relates how Lumina, which was cofounded and solely funded by Sallie Mae, gave New America $3 million and now NA rails against PSLF and federal student lending]

2. "Michael Simkovic, a visiting associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an expert on lending issues, said that if Brookings’s reports on student debt were to dictate policy, they would “boost the profits of the student lenders like Sallie Mae.”" [article relates how Lumina gave Brookings $1.9 million and now Brookings claims there is no student loan crisis]

3. From, with internal citations therein: Michael Simkovic received $120,000 in funding from Access Group, that student lending company jointly owned by 196 American law schools, and another $100,000 in funding from LSAC. Those in glass houses.... Don't complain about funding bias if you are guilty of it yourself.

- Some unemployed lawyer who isn't funded by anybody

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Mar 31, 2015 10:19:59 PM

OK, as usual, wait for it....

Law School Scam Crybaby: "No, waah! Your facts can't be right! The change is structural, and if you claim otherwise, then I'm going to hold my breath! Waah!"

Posted by: Rob T. | Mar 31, 2015 2:55:40 PM

Not a professional examination of the statistics, but I do find a couple of things odd with Simkovic's findings. First, he just says wages are flat, when it appears that the trend from 2009 is actually a lowering of wages. Sure the highs and lows average to flat, but I am concerned with current direction of income. Second, he uses employment statistics that includes self-employed lawyers. I doubt many prospective law students are signing up for 100's of thousands in debt to hopefully hang their own shingle right out of law school.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 31, 2015 12:51:28 PM