The Lawyers Per Capita by State page, which is this Web site’s most popular attraction, is now up to date. Back in 2014, the Census Bureau’s press department honored the page by using its contents in a “Profile America” feature on the ABA’s foundation. Enjoy!
[I made a few unfortunately significant errors when I compiled the data and created the table for full-time, long-term, bar-passage-required outcomes by law school in my first post on this topic. I overlooked the fact that the ABA now separates school-funded jobs in its employment status breakdown, meaning I subtracted school-funded jobs needlessly. I also mis-sorted the employment data for the class of 2015. Rather than correct that post, I am reposting the data, along with the information from this morning’s “second cut” to keep it all in one place. I will keep the previous posts up but will replace their text with links redirecting readers to this site to preserve links to that information and comments.
I hate making these kinds of preventable mistakes, so I apologize to readers. However, I greatly appreciate those of you who reached out to me to notify me of the errors.]
On Thursday, the ABA updated its Employment Summary Report Web site, which provides employment data for each law school class going back to 2010. Many if not all law schools have uploaded their individual reports, and some intrepid researchers have already dug into them, but I prefer to wait until the easy-to-use spreadsheet comes out. The ABA may revise these data over the next few months, but this first cut gives a good sense of the class of 2016’s employment outcomes. Also, completionists will note that while Indiana Tech graduated a small number of students last year, it did not report their employment outcomes. I exclude it.
36,618 people graduated from 200 ABA-accredited law schools outside of Puerto Rico roughly between September 1, 2015, and August 31, 2016. The employment information should be good as of about March 15, 2017.
Here’s the pie chart of the employment status distribution.
I’ll analyze these numbers in more depth in my second cut, but overall the percentages look slightly better than last year. However, even though there are fewer graduates (down 15 percent from two years ago) the proportion obtaining work hasn’t risen dramatically.
More tables appear below the fold to conserve blog space.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) usually completes its updates of its many measures of occupational employment for the previous year by April. Data for 2016 are now available, allowing a comprehensive summary of lawyer employment for that year. For detailed discussion of what the BLS datasets are and how they address lawyer employment, I recommend the lawyer overproduction page [updated!].
For context, according to the Current Population Survey (CPS), the number of people who reported working as lawyers in 2016 shrank 2.3 percent to 1,133,000—about where it was in 2014. The CPS also estimated 745,000 people working as lawyers on a wage or salary basis, a 7.2 percent decline from the previous year (-58,000 lawyers). This change is plausible because in 2015, the number rose 9 percent (+66,000) and could just indicate measurement problems with the CPS. By contrast, the more accurate Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program found that the number of wage-and-salary lawyers grew by 1.6 percent last year to 619,530 (+9,600 lawyers). The number of employee lawyers in the legal sector grew only a negligible 0.7 percent to 382,730 (+2,550).
Employee lawyers’ incomes were flat again in 2016. The OES estimated a scant 0.7 percent median hourly wage growth, although the CPS registered a -0.7 percent median weekly wage increase. Going by the OES, the last peak for lawyers’ earnings was 2009 (~$125,000 annually); incomes are about 6.7 percent lower (-$8,400) in real dollars since then. Here is an annualized dispersion.
These lawyer employment and income measures are not strong bellwethers for the value of legal education because they include many established lawyers and don’t measure recent graduate outcomes particularly well, especially those of graduates who do not promptly start careers in law. Readers seeking insight into that topic are instead advised to look at my criteria for predicting improvements in law graduate outcomes and the lawyer production page for a clear discussion of the BLS’s Employment Projections program.
Prior versions of this post:
- “Lawyer Employment Data Day at the Labor Department,” April 2, 2013
- “Wage-and-Salary Lawyer Employment Slows in 2015, Incomes Flat,” April 4, 2016
Facing shrinking enrollments, many law schools have responded by cutting their faculties. The phenomenon is worth measuring because faculty reductions aren’t always announced publicly, often appearing in the guises of retirements and quiet buy-outs. Consequently, the ABA’s 509 information reports can shed light on changes in law-school faculties. Here’s the cumulative distribution through 2016.
As with previous years, I will estimate the decline in fall full-time law-school faculties among the 201 law schools that aren’t in Puerto Rico. Note, however, that it’s unclear whether the term “full-time faculty” used in the 509 information reports includes full-time employees of a law school (as defined by the ABA’s annual questionnaire) who are on leave but have a right to return. Past editions of the Official Guide explicitly excluded full-time faculty who were on leave or sabbatical from their two-page spreads, which now exist as the online 509 information reports. The “Guide to the Data” pdf file accompanying the 509 information reports doesn’t specify either.
I assume the ABA is continuing to exclude faculty on leave or sabbatical and only counts faculty teaching courses in the fall or spring terms, even though it isn’t clear. Consequently, minor fluctuations might mean even less than I thought before, and although I’m obviously aware more faculty teach in the spring, I choose to track fall full-time faculty because the figures represent more recent developments. Additionally, full-time faculty who have shifted to the category “deans, librarians, and others who teach” are excluded as well. This may explain why there are fewer full-time faculty in the fall than spring as full-timers teach most of their courses then.
The peak for fall full timers occurred in 2010 (9,093), but that estimate includes the “other full-time faculty” category (clinicians and legal-writing instructors, if I recall), which the ABA no longer tracks independently. Fall full-time faculty fell by 3.3 percent this year (-261). Last year the decline was 3.4 percent (-242), so things are smoothing out. Since 2010, the cumulative decline has been 16.1 percent.
Here is a table of law schools ranked by net change in full-time faculty since 2010 and smallest faculty size in 2010. Trivial annual changes may not represent staff reductions and might be attributable to other factors, as discussed above. This year I’m choosing not to rank law schools that have merged, split, or didn’t exist in 2010 to prevent distortions.
|FULL-TIME FACULTY (FALL)|
|RANK||SCHOOL||’10||’15||’16||ANNUAL CHANGE||NET CHANGE|
|3.||John Marshall (Chicago)||75||45||27||-18||-48|
|N/A||Penn State (Dickinson Law)||57||19||18||-1||-39|
|11.||New York Law School||71||48||45||-3||-26|
|23.||Western New England||36||18||18||0||-18|
|35.||Atlanta’s John Marshall||35||22||19||-3||-16|
|35.||Lewis and Clark||53||40||37||-3||-16|
|41.||Arizona Summit [Phoenix]||32||7||17||10||-15|
|48.||Arkansas (Little Rock)||30||21||17||-4||-13|
|55.||North Carolina Central||42||31||30||-1||-12|
|90.||Case Western Reserve||47||41||40||-1||-7|
|94.||Washington and Lee||35||26||29||3||-6|
|101.||St. Thomas (MN)||29||24||24||0||-5|
|111.||District of Columbia||21||18||17||-1||-4|
|111.||Missouri (Kansas City)||34||33||30||-3||-4|
|111.||Texas A&M [Wesleyan]||30||30||26||-4||-4|
|149.||St. Thomas (FL)||28||30||29||-1||1|
|161.||William and Mary||39||44||41||-3||2|
|167.||New York University||151||153||154||1||3|
|N/A||Massachusetts — Dartmouth||15||14||-1||14|
|N/A||Penn State (Penn State Law)||35||31||-4||31|
- WMU Cooley retains its crown as number one.
- No. 2, American, appears to have lost 43 percent of its fall full-time faculty this year—half since 2010. This may be a misreporting by the law school.
- The same goes for number three, John Marshall. It’s lost nearly two-thirds of its faculty since 2010.
- I’m less surprised to see Florida Coastal next on the list.
- No. 5, George Washington, raised a stir in 2015 because, as some commenters insisted, the law school reclassified a number of full-time faculty to a designation none could identify. It’s possible that the elimination of the “other full-time faculty” category somehow disserved GWU, but I don’t really see why because similar problems didn’t plague other law schools at the time. As it is, until someone can identify which bucket GWU put those twenty or so persons, it keeps its high place.
- Whittier lost 13 full-time faculty this year, but it had gained 10 last year. Similarly, SUNY Buffalo lost 24 last year but gained 15 this year. Again, probably erratic reporting.
- A bunch of law schools lost more than 10 full-time faculty this year that I haven’t already mentioned: Valparaiso (-13), University of Washington (-12), Charlotte (-12), St. Louis (-11), and Harvard (-11). Of these, Charlotte lost 16 last year, and Harvard gained 15 last year.
- Arizona Summit gained back ten, and it did report part-time faculty this year. Last year it didn’t, which was clearly wrong.
- Finally, five law schools are running with fewer than ten fall full-time faculty, La Verne (9), Lincoln Memorial (8), Concordia (8), Appalachian (7), and the doomed Indiana Tech (5).
Here are prior posts on this topic:
- “Which Law Schools Are Shedding Full-Time Faculty? (2015 Edition)” (January 11, 2016)
- “Which Law Schools Are Shedding Full-Time Faculty? (2014 Edition)” (December 18, 2014)
- “Which Law Schools Are Shedding Full-Time Professors (2013 Edition)?” (April 25, 2014)
- “Stealth Layoffs Revealed?” (November 13, 2013)
Full-time tuition costs at private law schools rose an average 2.7 percent before adjusting for inflation. The rate is about 1 percent higher than the last two years’ increases, but it’s still below the typical 5 percent rate before the Great Recession. I focus on private law-school tuition because public law schools receive varying degrees of state subsidies, so they do not reflect the already distorted legal market’s prices.
Here’s what the dispersion of full-time private and full-time public (residential) tuition looks like going back to 1996:
I don’t have much to say about this that I haven’t before, but it appears that the 25th percentile public law school will soon charge more than the Stafford loan limit, which has been set at $20,500 for several years now. The limit is important because it indicates when students will need to rely on other funds to pay for their legal educations, including Grad PLUS loans, which can also go to students’ living expenses. Since 1996, Stafford loans have lost about a third of their value to inflation.
Notably costs are still widening, so after chopping up the law schools into quintiles, here’s the increases for the mean of each quintile.
The chart depicts at least three straight years of top-heavy tuition increases: The more expensive law schools are becoming more expensive—4 percent more among the top 20 percent of law schools. Two years ago, Columbia Law School became the first to charge more than $60,000, and it now costs more than $65,000. This year six other law schools joined the 60k club: NYU, Cornell, Penn, Chicago, Harvard, and USC. These seven schools raised their full-time costs by 3.8 percent on average, but theirs weren’t the largest increases. The following nine law schools raised their full-time tuition by more than 5 percent: Loyola (Calif.) (+5.4%), Michigan State (+5.5%), WMU Cooley (+6.1%), Faulkner (+6.6%), Lincoln Memorial (+6.8%), Tulsa (+7.0%), Charlotte (+7.1%), Willamette (+9.6%), and Howard (+10.9%).
It would be unfair of me not to acknowledge the handful of private law schools that cut their full-time charges: Campbell (-0.4%), Capital (-5.2%), Dayton (-6.4%), and Indiana Tech (-31.1%). Fourteen private law schools held their costs flat: New York Law School, Chicago-Kent, Brooklyn, Suffolk, Loyola (La.), Western State, Ave Maria, Western New England, Detroit, Valparaiso, Barry, Oklahoma City, Mississippi College, and Elon.
Yes, I notice that two failing law schools, Indiana Tech and Charlotte, both dealt with their incipient problems by slashing and hiking costs, respectively. For Indiana Tech, it didn’t translate into more matriculants.
Finally, 19 public law schools cut or held their residential tuition with the two most notable ones being Texas A&M (-15.4%) and UC Hastings (-9.1%). Akron, Cincinnati, and Toledo also didn’t raise their tuition, so along with Capital and Dayton that makes five of nine Ohio law schools that stand out in tuition control.
Full-time tuition costs don’t necessarily indicate what students are actually charged, but they do show how much rent law schools can extract from the government’s loan programs. For many law schools that ability is fading.
Information on this topic from prior years:
- “Full-Time Law School Tuition Still (Slowly) Rising” (December 22, 2015)
- “Law School Cuts Its Tuition to Zero (and Other 509 Report Errata)” (December 15, 2014)
- “The Official Guide is Dead, Long Live the Official Guide!” (March 31, 2014)
[2016-12-26: This post has been updated due to minor miscalculations.]
The ABA’s standard 509 information reports are out now. Unlike last year there is no need for preliminaries about the data. The names of the law schools line up for the most part, so users do not need to worry about combing around for Lincoln Memorial or some other new law school. They might, however, want to download reports for Hamline and William Mitchell because some calendar-year 2016 data were separately reported before the Mitchell|Hamline merger officially went into effect. As of now, there are no reports for Rutgers-Camden and Rutgers-Newark, so now Rutgers is one.
In calendar year 2016, there were 33,075 full-time matriculants to 201 ABA-accredited law schools, up 468 matriculants from 2015 (+1.4 percent). That year saw an 838-matriculant decline, so the crunch has reversed for the law schools. (These figures exclude the three law school in Puerto Rico, as I usually do.)
Full-time applicant acceptance rates are largely flat, except at the 90th percentile.
Matriculant yields are up to 24.1 percent overall compared to 22.9 percent last year, but ultimately about 21 law schools account for half of the decline in matriculants since the last trough year, 2007, which I believe is a better comparison year for this measure than 2010, a peak year.
Meanwhile, application growth rates are still accelerating. At the median it’s flat.
102 law schools saw a growth in applications, which is much higher than last year. First place goes to (and you’ll love this) … Indiana Tech (235.4 percent), which will close at the end of the academic year. It received 332 applications, extended only 128 offers, and admitted but 39 full-time students. Indiana Tech’s 75th percentile full-time applicant received a 152 on the LSAT. It preferred to close than accept 204 applicants (~60 percent). Numbers two and three for application growth were Florida (98.9 percent) and Concordia (71.0 percent).
Before anyone gets excited about rising law-school applications, though, I note that 72.5 percent of the rise can be attributed to U.S. News‘ top 14 law schools. Thus, things probably don’t look any better for most schools since last year. In the last two years, I’ve commented on the possibility that applicants believe that now is the best time to go to an elite law school, and while that sentiment dissipated last year, it’s back now for sure.
More on these topics later.
Here’s information on enrollments from prior years:
Since I started writing here more than six years ago, it’s always been bad news for the legal services industry. Dwindling output, year in, year out. This time, no longer. We have growth: 2.0 percent in 2015.
(Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA))
And yes, thanks to an alert reader I can now show the BEA’s complete GDP-by-industry dataset going back to 1963! We can now see that if the legal services industry had maintained its mid-20th century growth rate it would be nearly double its current size. Imagine how much better law practice would be. You might think there’d be a need for more law schools to meet the demand.
Arguably, the government’s definition of the industry or its composition has changed over the decades as it has for other industries, but I doubt it. It’s mostly lawyers’ offices. Undeniably, though, the typical product of the legal services industry has changed. I’d bet that the weighted-average hour of legal work is very different now than in 1975. Even so, it’s still possible to give a dollar figure of how much stuff private practice lawyers are producing.
…And it ain’t much. The legal services industry produced less in 2015 than in 2012, 1995, and 1988. There’s room for a lot of growth. The sector peaked in 2008, and since then it’s shrunk more than 20 percent.
The other caveat is that the legal services industry’s growth this year is mostly attributable to the gross operating surplus (what goes to firm owners, partners, solos) as opposed to employee compensation, which better indicates budding demand for new lawyers. The breakdown is: gross operating surplus, +1.5 percent; taxes on production and imports, +0.5 percent; and compensation of employees, +0.0 percent.
Yeah. You read that right. 0.
However, compensation has shaved off growth since 2007, so maybe a zero year isn’t so bad. Here’s the chart of the industry’s components, which still only goes back to 1987:
Compensation of employees in the legal services industry peaked in 2003 at $121 billion (2009 $). Now it’s $97 billion, a similar 20 percent decline.
Finally, although the legal services sector did well in 2015, the rest of the economy did better: GDP grew 2.6 percent, of which 1.9 percent went to compensation of employees. Things still look better for non-law.
Finally, legal services as a share of household expenditures grew for the first time in thirteen years.
At its maximum, households spent $99.5 billion on lawyers in 2003. Now it’s $87.9 billion, down 11.7 percent.
I’ve written elsewhere that the legal services sector can’t shrink forever into nothing. It’s like estimates of the year Japan’s population reaches zero. So we were bound to have some good years. What we need is evidence of sustained growth, especially in employee compensation. Instead, that’s not going anywhere, but at least it’s not falling anymore.