BLS Projects Only 43,800 New Lawyer Jobs by 2024

On Tuesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its employment projections for the next cycle: 2014-2024.

In 2014, the BLS estimated that there were 778,700 lawyer positions (as opposed to discrete lawyers) in the United States. This figure includes self-employed lawyers. In 2012, the Employment Projections Program found 759,800 lawyer positions, so there has been some growth. According to the Current Population Survey, in 2014, 1.132 million people worked as lawyers in the United States. The discrepancy between the CPS and the EPP has existed for some time. In their respective contexts, both figures are correct.

The BLS projects future employment trends in part to help job seekers evaluate career choices, and the projections play a significant role in the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. Here is an illustration, from various sources, of law-school graduate and lawyer growth since the 1980s.

Lawyer & Graduate Estimates (1983-2024)

Between 2014 and 2024, the BLS estimates a total 157,700 net lawyer jobs will be created. Of those, only 43,800 can be attributed to economic growth over the decade. The rest, 113,900, consist of net occupational replacements. Last year, I wrote about how the BLS plans to revise its replacement methodology, switching from a net replacement measurement to a gross one. When applied to lawyers, it appeared more jobs would be created annually than under the current methodology. The BLS has not yet adopted the new methodology.

Unfortunately—and despite my warnings—some law professors concluded that a higher replacement rate meant better job prospects for law school graduates. However, this position fails to account for turnover—the rate at which lawyers leave the law for different occupations or leave the labor force entirely. In fact, in a prototype analysis of the new methodology, the BLS estimated that over ten years one lawyer in four would move to a different occupation. By comparison, the rate for physicians was only 15 percent. It is unlikely that every lawyer moving to a different occupation will find work in a field that requires the skills and knowledge obtained in law school or pays accordingly.

The BLS typically divides the ten-year employment projection by ten, suggesting that only 15,770 lawyer positions will be created each year until 2024. Despite falling law-school enrollments, but with the number of applicants possibly rising, it does not appear that the economy will be able to absorb all new lawyers completing law school. Indeed, in 2014, 43,800 people graduated from ABA law schools, but it’s likely that fewer than 40,000 graduated in 2015. The number of people admitted to the bar by admission and diploma privilege—a measure of new lawyer growth—was 54,820 in 2014, but this includes many duplicates.

The number of law school graduates and new bar admits far exceed the projected lawyer job growth rate. Consequently, it appears that although interest in law school has waned, far more people are attending law school than the profession can employ.

My opinions of J.D. advantage jobs can be found here.

My comprehensive explanation of the various measures of law-school grads and lawyers can be found on this page. It also should contain any links I may have omitted in this post.

6 comments

  1. Reading through all this stuff is technical and requires my math whiz daughter to understand it. Surplus lawyers like me don’t understand it. Let me tell you in plain old language what it says: There is no work and that the market is grossly over saturated with attorneys. Clients are busting my chops over 2 bills for a single court appearance and they know they can price shop. Between my crappy Bronze Level Obama Care Plan and Student Loan payment its almost eight bills per month. Month after month after month after month…year after year after year after year….just like that calendar scenes in those prison movies.

  2. Hmmm…. I am very happy they didn’t change their methodology for computing total job openings, as that would have diverged a lot from reality. That being said, it appears that BLS has decided to be conservative with their overall job numbers, which I think is a positive thing overall. It will be interesting seeing if certain professional healthcare programs (Pharmacy, Veterinary, PA, Nurse Practioner) see declines in enrollment. I think the BLS numbers are overly conservative for these occupations, however it is abundantly clear that each one has a surplus of graduates relative to demand, and something is going to have to give.

    1. Is Veterinary considered “Health Care?” One of the best lines in Planet of the Apes is when the Charleston Heaston (cold dead hands) astronaut asks Zera if there is a doctor around. She says, “Doctor?” We call them “Veterinarians.”

    2. God, I hope so. Phamacy is in free fall of glutt: jobs. One blighting error in BLS that a layman may miss is that it doesn’t factor in increase of graduates. For instance, pharmacy grads will reach 2X annual net jobs (over optimistic projections) in a few years. A kid may see the job growth being ‘average’ (for a permanent recession economy) and decide it might not be too bad to do pharm, when in reality he may never work, or work long enough, to pay his loans.

  3. Veterinary is glutted too but we have the national association telling us it is not and there are a lot of DVM advantage jobs in ecosystem health care and public health while underserved areas just need government loan forgiveness programs so newbies can go there and make sure all animals have health care. All the while, universities see the cash cow of veterinary schools charging 200k for four years to “passionate” young women(over 80% of students) who want to save the world. I am joining the trades after 20 yrs of dealing with the elite, arrogant scumbag leadership.

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