Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

As Law School Enrollments Drop, Decline In Legal Jobs Keeps Law Grads Struggling To Find Work

American Lawyer LogoThe American Lawyer:  As Supply of Law Grads Drops, More Struggle To Find Work, by Matt Leichter:

What would it take to spark an employment recovery for law school graduates?

In simple economic terms, there are just two factors at play: the demand for new lawyers and the supply of graduates. The U.S. economy is still lagging, and the legal sector hasn't improved either, so it's understandable if law grads aren't finding more and better jobs amid slack demand.

That leaves the supply side. If the number of graduates falls, then those remaining should have an easier time finding jobs, leaving fewer graduates unemployed. And even if poor demand for new attorneys limits the positions available to graduates, those who don't find work as lawyers should be able to find it elsewhere. Like musical chairs, the fewer people who play, the fewer are left standing when the music stops. This is the glass-half-full prediction for law school graduates.

Unfortunately for graduates, the employment results for the class of 2015, which the American Bar Association officially released in May, tell a different story.

Excluding the three law schools in Puerto Rico, 3,772 fewer people graduated from ABA-accredited law schools in 2015, an 8.7 percent decline from 2014. Somewhat surprisingly, the number of graduates with jobs requiring a law degree fell by nearly 2,000, equivalent to more than half the difference in graduates between the two years. ...

As law schools admit more marginal applicants to offset dwindling enrollments, it's understandable that more graduates are failing the bar and failing to find jobs as lawyers. Likewise it makes sense that changes to the ABA's definition of "long-term" for law-school-funded jobs reduces their number.

Despite the collapse in law school applications since 2010, today's smaller graduating classes are not finding an easier entry into the legal profession—and possibly into any profession at all. Undoubtedly, demand for lawyers is still a problem, but so is the continued structural oversupply of law students and law schools.

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