State-Level Employment Projections: High Lawyer Replacement

Every two years the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes state-level employment projections on its affiliated Web site projectionscentral.com. The data from this site include estimates of the number of lawyer positions (not people who are lawyers) out there in 2016, a prediction of how many there will be by 2026 (assuming full employment), and the projected number of annual lawyer job openings.

In past years this topic was one of my favorites because I could compare the number of lawyer job openings to the numbers of law-school graduates (via the ABA) and new bar admits (via the NCBEX). However, because the BLS changed its methodology for calculating occupational replacement rates a few years ago, this is no longer possible. Instead, I can show the ten-year replacement rate for lawyers by state, but first here are the basic numbers compared to those from the previous cycle two years ago.

STATE/BEA REGION NO. EMPLOYED LAWYERS LAWYER EMPLOYMENT PROJECTIONS ANNUAL LAWYER GROWTH RATE
2014 2016 % CHANGE 2024 2026 % CHANGE 2024 2026 % CHANGE
Alabama 7,050 6,860 -2.7% 7,410 7,400 -0.1% 140 350 N/A
Alaska 1,070 1,030 -3.7% 1,020 930 -8.8% 20 30 N/A
Arizona 9,630 11,830 22.8% 11,870 13,310 12.1% 370 670 N/A
Arkansas 4,720 3,900 -17.4% 5,360 4,520 -15.7% 130 240 N/A
California 91,900 97,400 6.0% 102,700 108,000 5.2% 2,420 5,330 N/A
Colorado 15,800 14,630 -7.4% 19,270 17,370 -9.9% 600 1,010 N/A
Connecticut 12,620 12,260 -2.9% 13,080 12,960 -0.9% 230 590 N/A
Delaware 3,540 3,270 -7.6% 3,660 3,550 -3.0% 60 170 N/A
District of Columbia 38,920 39,360 1.1% 41,480 41,770 0.7% 830 1,920 N/A
Florida 59,400 60,180 1.3% 68,400 67,970 -0.6% 1,770 3,440 N/A
Georgia 18,160 20,570 13.3% 19,690 22,800 15.8% 420 1,120 N/A
Hawaii 2,410 2,690 11.6% 2,500 2,820 12.8% 40 130 N/A
Idaho 3,030 1,460 -51.8% 2,960 1,610 -45.6% 50 80 N/A
Illinois 35,840 36,230 1.1% 37,950 39,280 3.5% 740 1,870 N/A
Indiana 9,450 10,500 11.1% 10,520 11,530 9.6% 250 560 N/A
Iowa 4,340 4,330 -0.2% 4,880 4,880 0.0% 120 250 N/A
Kansas 5,090 4,750 -6.7% 5,570 5,350 -3.9% 130 270 N/A
Kentucky 9,490 6,850 -27.8% 10,640 7,250 -31.9% 250 330 N/A
Louisiana 9,180 8,390 -8.6% 9,730 9,210 -5.3% 190 450 N/A
Maine 3,170 3,000 -5.4% 3,210 3,020 -5.9% 50 130 N/A
Maryland 11,690 14,520 24.2% 13,370 14,930 11.7% 360 540 N/A
Massachusetts 22,100 22,220 0.5% 23,080 23,880 3.5% 420 1,120 N/A
Michigan 17,900 18,770 4.9% 19,230 20,140 4.7% 400 940 N/A
Minnesota 12,640 12,640 0.0% 13,340 13,800 3.4% 260 660 N/A
Mississippi 3,760 4,150 10.4% 4,030 4,200 4.2% 80 180 N/A
Missouri 12,470 12,220 -2.0% 13,160 13,510 2.7% 250 660 N/A
Montana 2,550 2,490 -2.4% 2,830 2,700 -4.6% 70 130 N/A
Nebraska 3,910 3,720 -4.9% 4,400 4,220 -4.1% 110 220 N/A
Nevada 6,030 7,050 16.9% 7,880 7,560 -4.1% 270 350 N/A
New Hampshire 2,010 1,950 -3.0% 2,070 2,090 1.0% 40 100 N/A
New Jersey 24,520 26,610 8.5% 25,140 28,660 14.0% 420 1,350 N/A
New Mexico 3,810 3,600 -5.5% 3,830 3,760 -1.8% 60 170 N/A
New York 90,830 84,230 -7.3% 99,020 93,900 -5.2% 2,150 4,660 N/A
North Carolina 16,020 14,430 -9.9% 17,870 16,010 -10.4% 420 790 N/A
North Dakota 1,740 2,080 19.5% 1,790 2,240 25.1% 30 110 N/A
Ohio 20,180 20,150 -0.1% 21,290 20,120 -5.5% 410 830 N/A
Oklahoma 9,480 8,280 -12.7% 10,290 8,930 -13.2% 220 420 N/A
Oregon 8,250 8,180 -0.8% 9,440 8,960 -5.1% 240 430 N/A
Pennsylvania 31,240 31,640 1.3% 32,960 33,790 2.5% 630 1,570 N/A
Puerto Rico 4,420 4,260 -3.6% 4,500 4,250 -5.6% 70 170 N/A
Rhode Island 4,210 4,050 -3.8% 4,460 4,250 -4.7% 90 190 N/A
South Carolina 7,220 8,160 13.0% 7,670 8,870 15.6% 150 420 N/A
South Dakota 980 970 -1.0% 1,080 1,070 -0.9% 20 50 N/A
Tennessee 7,990 9,660 20.9% 8,690 10,850 24.9% 200 550 N/A
Texas 51,420 N/A N/A 63,140 N/A N/A 1,920 N/A N/A
Utah 5,310 5,550 4.5% 6,360 6,800 6.9% 180 380 N/A
Vermont 1,940 1,950 0.5% 1,990 1,940 -2.5% 30 80 N/A
Virginia 21,860 21,530 -1.5% 24,150 23,660 -2.0% 550 1,150 N/A
Washington 17,290 15,510 -10.3% 18,940 17,040 -10.0% 430 830 N/A
West Virginia N/A 3,230 N/A N/A 135 N/A N/A 150 N/A
Wisconsin 9,620 9,400 -2.3% 9,940 9,870 -0.7% 170 450 N/A
Wyoming 1,160 1,020 -12.1% 1,130 1,060 -6.2% 20 50 N/A
STATES (EXCL. P.R.) 774,940 777,640 0.3% 854,470 857,480 0.4% 19,410 40,240 N/A
U.S.A. (EXCL. P.R.) 778,700 792,500 1.8% 822,500 857,500 4.3% 15,770 40,700 N/A
New England 46,050 45,430 -1.3% 47,890 48,140 0.5% 860 2,210 N/A
Mideast 200,740 199,630 -0.6% 215,630 216,600 0.4% 4,450 10,210 N/A
Great Lakes 92,990 95,050 2.2% 98,930 100,940 2.0% 1,970 4,650 N/A
Plains 41,170 40,710 -1.1% 44,220 45,070 1.9% 920 2,220 N/A
Southeast* 164,850 164,680* -0.1%* 183,640 182,740* -0.5%* 4,300 9,020* N/A
Southwest* 74,340 75,130* 1.1%* 89,130 89,140* 0.0%* 2,570 >3,180* N/A
Rocky Mountains 27,850 25,150 -9.7% 32,550 29,540 -9.2% 920 1,650 N/A
Far West 126,950 131,860 3.9% 142,480 145,310 2.0% 3,420 7,100 N/A

(Note: Only Texas did not report its numbers this year, which is lamentable because it’s a large state. West Virginia did not report two years ago. For the purposes of the regional estimates, wherever there were gaps, I used Texas’ 2014 numbers for this year and omitted West Virginia entirely.)

Superficially, one can tell that the data are erratic. It’s unlikely that half of Idaho’s lawyers disappeared in two years, and there are other wide swings like Maryland and Kentucky. The BEA regional numbers look steadier though.

On to the specifics. You can clearly see that the annual job growth numbers are much higher for 2016, but that’s because of the methodology change, not anything to do with the legal labor market. Presumably, had the new methodology been used in the past, the numbers would have been quite higher. Even as it is, unfortunately, the new methodology gives the misleading impression that the legal profession is capable of absorbing significant numbers of law-school graduates and new lawyers. Indeed, the class of 2017 only had about 34,500 persons, and nearly 42,000 people were admitted by examination or diploma privilege. Certainly this should indicate a healthy employment situation for law graduates, right?

The question isn’t simply whether grads get jobs, but what kind of jobs they are and how long they keep them. Moreover, lawyer positions that open by replacement won’t necessarily be filled by new lawyers. So, here’s a table depicting the projected annual number of new lawyer jobs created each year until 2026, the number created by replacement, and an estimate of the ten-year replacement rate.

STATE Annual New Lawyer Jobs Annual Replacement Lawyer Jobs 10-Year Lawyer Replacement Rate
2024 2026 2024 2026 2026
Alabama 36 54 104 296 43.1%
Alaska -5 -10 N/A N/A N/A
Arizona 224 148 146 522 44.1%
Arkansas 64 62 66 178 45.6%
California 1,080 1,060 1,340 4,270 43.8%
Colorado 347 274 253 736 50.3%
Connecticut 46 70 184 520 42.4%
Delaware 12 28 48 142 43.4%
District of Columbia 256 241 574 1,679 42.7%
Florida 900 779 870 2,661 44.2%
Georgia 153 223 267 897 43.6%
Hawaii 9 13 31 117 43.5%
Idaho -7 15 N/A 65 44.5%
Illinois 211 305 529 1,565 43.2%
Indiana 107 103 143 457 43.5%
Iowa 54 55 66 195 45.0%
Kansas 48 60 82 210 44.2%
Kentucky 115 40 135 290 42.3%
Louisiana 55 82 135 368 43.9%
Maine 4 2 46 128 42.7%
Maryland 168 41 192 499 34.4%
Massachusetts 98 166 322 954 42.9%
Michigan 133 137 267 803 42.8%
Minnesota 70 116 190 544 43.0%
Mississippi 27 5 53 175 42.2%
Missouri 69 129 181 531 43.5%
Montana 28 21 42 109 43.8%
Nebraska 49 50 61 170 45.7%
Nevada 185 51 85 299 42.4%
New Hampshire 6 14 34 86 44.1%
New Jersey 62 205 358 1,145 43.0%
New Mexico 2 16 58 154 42.8%
New York 819 967 1,331 3,693 43.8%
North Carolina 185 158 235 632 43.8%
North Dakota 5 16 25 94 45.2%
Ohio 111 -3 299 N/A N/A
Oklahoma 81 65 139 355 42.9%
Oregon 119 78 121 352 43.0%
Pennsylvania 172 215 458 1,355 42.8%
Puerto Rico 8 -1 62 N/A N/A
Rhode Island 25 20 65 170 42.0%
South Carolina 45 71 105 349 42.8%
South Dakota 10 10 10 40 41.2%
Tennessee 70 119 130 431 44.6%
Texas 1,172 N/A 748 N/A N/A
Utah 105 125 75 255 45.9%
Vermont 5 -1 25 N/A N/A
Virginia 229 213 321 937 43.5%
Washington 165 153 265 677 43.6%
West Virginia N/A 15 N/A 135 41.8%
Wisconsin 32 47 138 403 42.9%
Wyoming -3 4 N/A 46 45.1%
U.S.A. (EXCL. P.R.) 4,380 6,500 11,390 34,200 43.2%

(Note: States that predict declines in lawyer counts do not have replacement rates. Also, the U.S.A. totals at the bottom are not the sums of the individual jurisdictions of them.)

The one ray of hope here is the faster rate of new lawyer job growth nationwide. The BLS appears to be predicting it’ll accelerate at about 50 percent. However, most jobs are created by replacement, not growth. Thus, we have a set of ten-year replacement rates that are consistently above 40 percent, which astonishes me, but is still consistent with the national data from last year. I question whether the methodology is producing reliable results. Perhaps law practice is too small an occupation to accurately measure, unlike retail salespeople. Although, it’s necessary to bear in mind that not all lawyer jobs are created equal and some may turnover multiple times in a decade.

Meanwhile, I checked the numbers again, and occupations such as “Dentists, General” and “Physicians and Surgeons, All Other” have ten-year replacement rates below 30 percent. “Paralegals and Legal Assistants” have a staggering ten-year replacement rate of 120 percent.

So yes, the projections don’t inspire me with confidence, but they’re the best, neutral evidence we have about the long-term viability of a law career. If they gave a contrary result (and other evidence backed it up), then I’d arrive at a different conclusion. But today is not that day, so I stand by my opinion that law schools cannot credibly represent good outcomes for their prospective and current students.

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