Indiana Lawyer, Good Growth? Lawyer Population Grows, But Supply May Outpace Demand:
The last decade has been fraught with economic uncertainty, as a recession, recovery and an expected new recession have cast a shadow over many industries, including the law. But recent data from the American Bar Association indicates the ups and downs haven’t kept people from the practice.
According to the ABA’s National Lawyer Population Survey, the number of active lawyers nationwide grew by 14.5% in the last decade, up from 1,180,386 in 2009 to 1,352,027 in 2019. ...
These numbers can be seen as a reason to celebrate in a profession that was hit hard by the Great Recession. Law school enrollment, for example, took a nosedive in the early 2010s but has remained relatively steady ever since.
But industry experts also see a potential mismatch between lawyer supply and demand, creating the risk for oversaturation. Indeed, though the employment rate for recent law school graduates is up, the actual number of jobs has declined.
“It’s impossible for anyone to know what’s going to happen in terms of an event that might disrupt the economy,” said James Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement. “But if there’s another significant slowdown, not even as dramatic as the last one, we could see the job numbers fall more quickly.”
Given the conflicting data, experts say the best thing law students, schools and employers can do is keep an eye on the market.
Analyzing the legal job market isn’t as simple as looking at the lawyer population, experts say. The number of licensed attorneys has increased, but law school applications and enrollment have experienced multiple years of decrease.
Plus, the number of jobs available to new graduates fell by 150 jobs between the Class of 2017 and the Class of 2018, according to NALP data. Given this disparity, Leipold said it can be hard to reconcile why the number of lawyers is going up.
Bill Henderson, the Stephen F. Burns professor of law at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, wasn’t surprised to see that the number of licensed attorneys was up, but he agreed those numbers should be put in context.
For example, Henderson noted many retirement-age attorneys are choosing to continue working. Kellye Testy, president and CEO of the Law School Admission Council, also said the last recession has played a part in some older lawyers declining to leave their jobs. Further, she noted that technology now gives older attorneys the option of continuing their work from home. ...
Though the recession is nearly a decade past, Testy doesn’t expect law schools to return to their previous enrollment numbers. Instead, she said many law schools now offer degrees outside of a J.D., such as a master of laws degree, that can help them maintain the number of students and revenue they need. “I don’t expect them to increase the number of J.D. students,” she said. “They’re trying to market to the market.”•