Household Spending on Legal Services Declines Too

But first, I should inform you that for the second year the ABA Journal has chosen to admit The Law School Tuition Bubble into its Blawg 100. It states:

Matt Leichter makes data-driven arguments in favor of changes to the legal education system. Anyone concerned about the levels of student debt and the state of employment in the legal industry would do well to visit his blog and examine his data firsthand.

I endorse this characterization, and you can endorse my Web site here.

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Speaking of data about the legal industry…

A brief follow-up to Monday’s article on the legal services industry’s continuing contraction: It turns out a few months back the BEA updated its personal income and outlays tables. Although they can only tell us about household consumption of legal services, the data go back much further than the GDP by industry tables do, and arguably household spending on legal services does a better job of capturing the health of the legal services industry for lawyers who enter small practices. I discussed them before here.

There are a few relevant findings.

One, inflation-adjusted household consumption of legal services fell by 3.27 percent in 2013. It’s about 15 percent less than in the peak year, 2003.

Percent Change Real Personal Consumption Expenditures by Function

(Source: National Income and Product Accounts, Table 2.5.3., author’s calculations)

Two,  the peak year for legal services as a share of total household expenditures was 1990 (1.09 percent); in 2013 it had fallen to 0.85 percent. It’s comparable to 1983 or 1973.

Legal Services Share of Household Consumption Expenditures

(Source: NIPA Table 2.5.5., author’s calculations)

The point isn’t just that households are spending less lawyers, it’s also that legal services historically have been a trivial expense. Americans spend about twice as much on higher education than legal services (but they certainly didn’t use to!). By contrast health care surged from 6 percent in 1959 to 21 percent in 2013. Compare that to the public perception of lawyers.

Three, household spending on legal services as a share of the industry total has been declining since the early 2000s.

Personal Consumption Expenditures of Legal Services Share of Legal Services Industry

(Source: NIPA Table 2.5.5., GDP by Industry Value Added, author’s calculations)

All of these trends point to the withering of small-law. I am pessimistic of the outlook over the next several years.

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