Quick Link: EMSI Mostly Gets It Right on Attorney Overproduction

[UPDATE: The New York Times Economix blogger, Catherine Rampbell has reposted EMSI's findings. Unfortunately, she does so uncritically.]

Joshua Wright of Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc. has generated his own calculation of attorney overproduction. Readers may recall that I did something similar here. I should say that he’s measuring overproduction of licensed attorneys while I look at the number of graduates. Here are my thoughts:

(1) EMSI comes to more optimistic conclusions than the BLS and state governments do. Over the 5-year period it surveyed (2010-2015), it found that nationally, the economy will produce 26,239 job openings per year. The BLS calculates 24,400 while state governments (less South Dakota) project only 19,470 jobs annually. I do not know if EMSI projects full national employment in its target year as the government does, but if it didn’t that would be cause for celebration.

(2) For my purposes, the number of bar passers is irrelevant. People who don’t pass the bar or take many years to pass it are a serious problem the legal profession is avoiding, especially since there’s a likely correlation between LSAT performance and bar passage, meaning many law schools know or should know their applicants will have difficulty passing the bar yet accepts them anyway. Bar passage numbers do give us an idea of where people end up after law school, but it’s not the most accurate measure. The ABA has updated its National Lawyer Population by State document, which counts attorneys who are “active and resident.” This is better than bar passage rates because it counts lawyers where they’re living and not in the potentially multiple states where they’re taking the bar.

(3) There are other pitfalls for focusing on bar passage rates. For instance, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and D.C. are the only states not overproducing lawyers by that measure. However, Wisconsin has diploma privilege and people can waive into D.C. if they pass elsewhere.

One of the criticisms my graduate overproduction research received was that people move around a lot, even though I explicitly stated that I wasn’t measuring that. EMSI’s research does a good job responding to that criticism, but it doesn’t anything new.

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