Law Graduate Overproduction by State (aka “The Holy Grail”)

[****THIS IS THE ORIGINAL POST ON LAW GRADUATE OVERPRODUCTION. THE PERMANENT VERSION OF THIS POST CAN BE FOUND ON THIS PAGE. PLEASE LINK TO THAT INSTEAD.****]

Choropleth Map of ABA Graduates per Job Opening by State (Indiana & Iowa are average)

This week’s breakthrough—discovering the national lawyer replacement projection data from 2008 to 2018 (240,400 gross jobs)—led to an even bigger breakthrough: lawyer replacement data by state over the same time period. I never dreamed I’d be able to find this when I started this blog.

Taking 2009 graduate numbers from the LSAC against state lawyer employment projections, we can compare lawyer overproduction state-by-state, telling us where there are too many law students and law schools. There are a few limitations with the data:

(1)  They necessarily exclude non-ABA law schools because no centralized authorities track them. This is unfortunate because non-ABA law schools account for 16.74% of all law schools (I continue to exclude correspondence schools and the JAG school). Mainly this means California’s values are extremely suspect.

(2)  The sum of the state replacement projections does not come close to the federal government’s projection. More below.

(3)  South Dakota does not provide any data, but it can’t have any more than 2,000 employed lawyers in 2008. My guess is its projections should be similar to North Dakota’s and Montana’s.

(4)  Overproduction assumes every graduate works in the state he or she attended law school. This obviously isn’t true. It’s also theoretically possible that some law schools deliberately “underbid” those in other states, i.e. cheaply producing better lawyers and exporting them to undercut local law schools (Widener’s Gambit?). I dismiss this hypothesis as dubious given tuition rates, and ultimately it doesn’t matter. The oversupply problem wouldn’t exist if there were clear attorney shortages to compensate for surplus production in other regions. The following results demonstrate only two states underproducing lawyers: Alaska and Nevada, but those two can’t possibly absorb the tens of thousands of excess law graduates produced per year elsewhere.

On the other hand, there are two pieces of good news:

(a)   the 2008 employment numbers are close enough between the states and the national government that they look like they include self-employed attorneys (solos and partners), and

(b)  The BLS assumes the economy will be at full employment by 2018, so as far as overproduction is concerned, we need not worry about today’s underemployed attorneys whom the BLS predicts will be employed doing something else (though that says nothing about their student debt and whether they’ll be gainfully employed at all).

Here’s a chart of the results, sorted by annual ABA graduate surplus because absolute overproduction more dramatically impacts the legal education system and people’s lives than relative overproduction.

The number in parentheses is the number of ABA-accredited law schools in that state as of 2011. * means the state has one or more non-ABA accredited law schools, and as always D.C. and Puerto Rico are counted as states for the purposes of this analysis.

# STATE Average Annual Job Openings ABA Grads (2009) Annual Surplus Grads/ Opening
1 New York (15) 1,700 4,776 3,076 2.81
2 California (20)* 2,360 4,688 2,328 1.99
3 Massachusetts (7)* 430 2,316 1,886 5.39
4 Michigan (5) 470 2,016 1,546 4.29
5 Florida (11) 1,370 2,787 1,417 2.03
6 District of Columbia (6) 970 2,129 1,159 2.19
7 Pennsylvania (8) 640 1,715 1,075 2.68
8 Illinois (9) 1,130 2,166 1,036 1.92
9 Ohio (9) 460 1,495 1,035 3.25
10 Texas (9) 1,500 2,337 837 1.56
11 Virginia (8) 730 1,429 699 1.96
12 Missouri (4) 220 898 678 4.08
13 North Carolina (7) 450 1,055 605 2.34
14 Minnesota (4) 370 962 592 2.60
15 Louisiana (4) 250 811 561 3.24
16 Indiana (4) 340 828 488 2.44
17 Delaware (1) 60 537 477 8.95
18 Puerto Rico (3) 100 554 454 5.54
19 Oregon (3) 160 531 371 3.32
20 Connecticut (3) 190 531 341 2.79
21 Wisconsin (2) 190 487 297 2.56
22 Oklahoma (3) 210 494 284 2.35
23 Maryland (2) 270 548 278 2.03
24 Washington (3) 440 694 254 1.58
25 New Jersey (3) 540 791 251 1.46
26 Tennessee (3)* 210 445 235 2.12
27 South Carolina (2) 190 405 215 2.13
28 Kentucky (3) 180 385 205 2.14
29 Alabama (3)* 200 405 205 2.03
30 Iowa (2) 140 341 201 2.44
31 Mississippi (2) 150 347 197 2.31
32 Colorado (2) 330 518 188 1.57
33 Nebraska (2) 100 280 180 2.80
34 Arkansas (2) 110 249 139 2.26
35 Georgia (5) 760 896 136 1.18
36 Vermont (1) 60 191 131 3.18
37 Kansas (2) 170 297 127 1.75
38 Rhode Island (1) 80 184 104 2.30
39 Arizona (3) 280 378 98 1.35
40 New Hampshire (1) 50 144 94 2.88
41 West Virginia (1) 60 149 89 2.48
42 North Dakota (1) 30 83 53 2.77
43 Maine (1) 50 93 43 1.86
44 New Mexico (1) 70 112 42 1.60
45 Wyoming (1) 30 71 41 2.37
46 Hawaii (1) 60 88 28 1.47
47 Montana (1) 60 77 17 1.28
48 Idaho (1) 90 93 3 1.03
49 Utah (2) 280 281 1 1.00
50 Nevada (1) 150 140 -10 0.93
51 Alaska (0) 30 0 -30 0.00
52 South Dakota (1) N/A 73 N/A N/A
USA (199) 24,040 44,000 19,960 1.83

You’ll note that the USA is supposed to add 24,040 lawyer jobs per year even though adding the individual state entries in the third column equals only 19,470, a deficit of 4,570 lawyer jobs per year that I highly doubt are all in South Dakota. The lower state sum means that the economy will gross only 194,700 lawyer jobs by 2018, and the national graduate to job ratio will be 2.2. The difference between the state sum and the national projection is important because the national number implies a 45.4% reduction in enrollments (~90 law schools) to stabilize the system while the former state number implies a larger 54.5% enrollment reduction equal to about 109 law schools. I don’t know what methodology labor departments use, but kudos go to Frank the Underemployed Professional of Fluster Cucked for subtracting ABA grads from forty years ago and coming up with a surplus similar to the BLS’s projection. For stats wonks, the median state surplus is 235, the mean 485.43, and the standard deviation 630.75.

As for the ratio of graduates to job openings, the median is 2.26, the mean 2.44, and the standard deviation 1.37. Only Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and Alaska are below the first standard deviation; Michigan and Missouri are in the second standard deviation above the average; Massachusetts and Puerto Rico are in the third, and Delaware is in the fifth.

To spare you another table, here’s a chart listing the graduate to job ratio:


For giggles, here’s Widener’s (DE) most recent bar passage rates as reported to the ABA and LSAC:

Of the 193 graduates in 2009 who were employed nine months after graduation, less than one quarter (48) were employed in-state. Graduates flocked to twelve (!) other states, and a clear majority took the Pennsylvania bar. Widener didn’t even bother reporting how many people took the Delaware bar. So the 8.95 graduates to annual job openings ratio isn’t implausible at all.

And for an appendix, here’s a table of the states by employed lawyers, growth rates, net jobs between 2008 and 2018, and the average annual job openings.

STATE Employed Lawyers(2008) Projected LawyerEmployment(2018) Growth Rate Net Jobs(2018)
Average AnnualJobOpenings
Alabama (3)* 7,910 8,420 6.45% 510 200
Alaska (0) 1,330 1,270 -4.51% -60 30
Arizona (3) 11,880 12,450 4.80% 570 280
Arkansas (2) 3,430 3,840 11.95% 410 110
California (20)* 94,900 100,800 6.22% 5,900 2,360
Colorado (2) 14,090 14,710 4.40% 620 330
Connecticut (3) 9,940 9,930 -0.10% -10 190
Delaware (1) 2,900 3,000 3.45% 100 60
District of Columbia (6) 42,410 44,180 4.17% 1,770 970
Florida (11) 52,980 56,820 7.25% 3,840 1,370
Georgia (5) 20,900 24,560 17.51% 3,660 760
Hawaii (1) 2,970 2,950 -0.67% -20 60
Idaho (1) 2,710 3,080 13.65% 370 90
Illinois (9) 38,080 42,290 11.06% 4,210 1,130
Indiana (4) 9,740 11,310 16.12% 1,570 340
Iowa (2) 4,340 4,910 13.13% 570 140
Kansas (2) 5,210 5,940 14.01% 730 170
Kentucky (3) 6,510 7,070 8.60% 560 180
Louisiana (4) 10,770 11,270 4.64% 500 250
Maine (1) 2,800 2,800 0.00% 0 50
Maryland (2) 14,300 13,570 -5.10% -730 270
Massachusetts (7)* 21,600 21,900 1.39% 300 430
Michigan (5) 19,030 20,210 6.20% 1,180 470
Minnesota (4) 15,290 16,160 5.69% 870 370
Mississippi (2) 5,260 5,740 9.13% 480 150
Missouri (4) 11,520 11,410 -0.95% -110 220
Montana (1) 1,870 2,070 10.70% 200 60
Nebraska (2) 3,400 3,750 10.29% 350 100
Nevada (1) 4,840 5,690 17.56% 850 150
New Hampshire (1) 2,350 2,400 2.13% 50 50
New Jersey (3) 28,650 28,650 0.00% 0 540
New Mexico (1) 3,550 3,580 0.85% 30 70
New York (15) 86,140 87,080 1.09% 940 1,700
North Carolina (7) 14,310 16,170 13.00% 1,860 450
North Dakota (1) 1,240 1,300 4.84% 60 30
Ohio (9) 19,860 20,750 4.48% 890 460
Oklahoma (3) 8,100 8,680 7.16% 580 210
Oregon (3) 4,980 5,610 12.65% 630 160
Pennsylvania (8) 28,400 29,400 3.52% 1,000 640
Puerto Rico (3) 4,180 4,350 4.07% 170 100
Rhode Island (1) 2,710 2,980 9.96% 270 80
South Carolina (2) 6,640 7,260 9.34% 620 190
South Dakota (1) N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Tennessee (3)* 8,720 9,160 5.05% 440 210
Texas (9) 44,680 51,360 14.95% 6,680 1,500
Utah (2) 7,080 8,580 21.19% 1,500 280
Vermont (1) 2,070 2,270 9.66% 200 60
Virginia (8) 19,780 23,390 18.25% 3,610 730
Washington (3) 14,840 16,320 9.97% 1,480 440
West Virginia (1) 2,940 2,970 1.02% 30 60
Wisconsin (2) 10,390 10,230 -1.54% -160 190
Wyoming (1) 940 1,040 10.64% 100 30
—– —– —– —– —– —–
TOTALS 765,460 815,630 6.55% 50,170 19,470
USA AVERAGE (199) 759,200 857,700 12.97% 98,500 24,040
***Difference*** -6,260 42,070 48,330 4,570

I include the “Difference” at the bottom to alert readers to the fact that while the 2008 employment numbers largely correspond between the states and the BLS (which I suspect excludes Puerto Rico), the 2018 employment projections simply do not line up. The federal government predicts 5.2% more employed attorneys than the states do, as well as a much faster growth rate. I’ll bet there’s a state government or two in there that’s not counting self-employed attorneys. If not, let’s hope the BLS is right and state governments aren’t because that’s 45,700 more graduates who will never see the inside of the legal profession.

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6 Responses

  1. You’re doing truly great work here, Matt.

  2. Excellent analysis!

    It’s great to see some actual hard data to support all of the anecdotal stories floating around.

  3. Perhaps the law school scambuster blogging movement is about more than just banal vulgarity and images of feces-smeared toilets as our critics want everyone to believe. Nice work with finding that state-by-state employment data.

  4. I really, really love your blog. Amazing work. Thank you!

  5. You have done a great job compiling strong data. In the end, if lemmings are intent on going to law school, they will not be influenced or persuaded by facts. However, those applicants who are at least open-minded will stop and think about their decision.

  6. Thank you so much for piecing the data together!!!

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