Attorney Overproduction

Half of States to See Decline in Lawyer Surpluses

In August, the National Association for Law Placement verified a trend that appeared in ABA data several months earlier: Despite the falling supply of law school graduates, demand for their work stubbornly refuses to materialize. In fact, the number of graduates who found work as lawyers fell far more than the number of unemployed graduates, suggesting that either many graduates failed the bar or that new lawyer jobs are much more transitory than they appear.

But if the short term trend indicates fewer lawyers in the future, what about the long-term outlook?

Fortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics updated its biennial state-level occupational employment projections. These data include an estimate of the number of lawyer positions (not people who are lawyers) out there in 2014, a prediction of how many there will be in 2024, and the projected number of annual lawyer job openings. This last figure can be compared to the number of new law licenses issued courtesy of the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) or law school graduates (from the ABA) to give the “lawyer surplus” and the “law graduate surplus,” respectively.

There are a few reasons to calculate two surplus ratios rather than one. For the lawyer surplus, the NCBE’s number of new law licenses includes many duplicates—people who become licensed in more than one jurisdiction—but it helps track people who obtain licenses on motion to places where few people sit for the bar, e.g. Washington D.C. Meanwhile, the law graduate surplus measures discrete individuals, but it excludes people who go to non-ABA-accredited law schools and not everyone who graduates from an ABA law school finds jobs as lawyers.

The two surpluses permit comparisons among states’ legal markets to show which parts of the country might provide better opportunities for new lawyers, but they are not a direct proxy for the typical number of people seeking job openings.

First, here’s a table of the state-level occupational employment information for the 2014-24 period compared to the 2012-22 period. The “STATES” row is the sum of the data from the state-level employment information, including the District of Columbia but excluding Puerto Rico, but the “U.S.A.” row is from the national projections provided by the BLS late last year. The STATES row and the Bureau of Economic Analysis regions below only include jurisdictions that reported in both time periods to ensure relevant comparisons.

STATE/BEA REGION NO. EMPLOYED LAWYERS LAWYER EMPLOYMENT PROJECTIONS ANNUAL LAWYER GROWTH RATE
2012 2014 2022 2024 2022 2024
Alabama 7,040 7,050 7,710 7,410 180 140
Alaska 1,020 1,070 1,010 1,020 20 20
Arizona 11,740 9,630 14,160 11,870 430 370
Arkansas 4,420 4,720 4,940 5,360 120 130
California 87,400 91,900 97,300 102,700 2,390 2,420
Colorado 15,800 15,800 19,280 19,270 600 600
Connecticut 9,390 12,620 10,080 13,080 220 230
Delaware 3,400 3,540 3,700 3,660 80 60
District of Columbia 33,460 38,920 35,040 41,480 690 830
Florida 51,860 59,400 61,310 68,400 1,930 1,770
Georgia 19,520 18,160 23,220 19,690 680 420
Hawaii 2,460 2,410 2,580 2,500 50 40
Idaho 2,700 N/A 2,820 N/A 60 N/A
Illinois 34,810 35,840 38,400 37,950 920 740
Indiana 7,680 9,450 8,810 10,520 240 250
Iowa 4,450 4,340 5,050 4,880 130 120
Kansas 4,950 5,090 5,610 5,570 150 130
Kentucky 5,600 9,490 6,450 10,640 300 250
Louisiana 9,310 9,180 10,490 9,730 270 190
Maine 2,930 3,170 3,010 3,210 60 50
Maryland 14,800 11,690 16,330 13,370 390 360
Massachusetts 22,640 22,100 24,590 23,080 560 420
Michigan N/A 17,900 N/A 19,230 N/A 400
Minnesota 12,550 12,640 13,080 13,340 260 260
Mississippi 3,220 3,760 3,460 4,030 80 80
Missouri 12,620 12,470 14,410 13,160 380 250
Montana 2,270 2,550 2,530 2,830 60 70
Nebraska 4,060 3,910 4,430 4,400 100 110
Nevada 5,640 6,030 6,260 7,880 150 270
New Hampshire 2,280 2,010 2,380 2,070 50 40
New Jersey 24,150 24,520 26,390 25,140 610 420
New Mexico 3,830 3,810 3,980 3,830 80 60
New York 82,220 90,830 88,680 99,020 1,960 2,150
North Carolina 14,810 16,020 17,500 17,870 510 420
North Dakota 1,540 1,740 1,680 1,790 40 30
Ohio 21,160 20,180 23,480 21,290 570 410
Oklahoma 9,260 9,480 10,270 10,290 250 220
Oregon 5,070 8,250 5,830 9,440 160 240
Pennsylvania 31,260 31,240 34,700 32,960 840 630
Puerto Rico 4,440 4,420 5,040 4,500 130 70
Rhode Island N/A 4,210 N/A 4,460 N/A 90
South Carolina 7,140 7,220 7,950 7,670 200 150
South Dakota 1,400 980 1,540 1,080 40 20
Tennessee 8,010 7,990 10,520 8,690 380 200
Texas 49,350 51,420 60,090 63,140 1,800 1,920
Utah 5,890 5,310 7,470 6,360 250 180
Vermont 2,030 1,940 2,150 1,990 40 30
Virginia 20,430 21,860 23,030 24,150 590 550
Washington 16,290 17,290 20,070 18,940 670 430
West Virginia N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Wisconsin 9,330 9,620 10,740 9,940 290 170
Wyoming 1,050 1,160 1,170 1,130 30 20
STATES (EXCL. P.R.) 711,540 749,800 802,860 827,820 20,800 18,870
U.S.A. (EXCL. P.R.) 759,800 778,700 834,700 822,500 19,650 15,770
New England 39,270 41,840 42,210 43,430 930 770
Mideast 189,290 200,740 204,840 215,630 4,570 4,450
Great Lakes 72,980 75,090 81,430 79,700 2,020 1,570
Plains 41,570 41,170 45,800 44,220 1,100 920
Southeast 151,360 164,850 176,580 183,640 5,240 4,300
Southwest 74,180 74,340 88,500 89,130 2,560 2,570
Rocky Mountains 25,010 24,820 30,450 29,590 940 870
Far West 117,880 126,950 133,050 142,480 3,440 3,420

Superficially, some states seem to have created many new lawyer jobs between 2012 and 2014. For example, it’s doubtful that Kentucky’s and Oregon’s legal markets grew by more than 60 percent in just two years, or that South Dakota’s contracted by 30 percent. The only state whose large swing may be plausible is Nevada’s. Its lawyer job count grew by about 7 percent since 2012, but its 10-year outlook rose by 25 percent with a corresponding 80 percent surge in projected annual job openings. On average, annual job openings sank by 12 percent among jurisdictions that reported in both periods while excluding Puerto Rico. Only 10 states and the District of Columbia had higher annual job growth rates than in 2012. The rate of decline in annual job growth for all jurisdictions that reported in both years and excluding Puerto Rico is 9 percent, which is less alarming than the BLS’s 20 percent drop for the whole country.

Offsetting the slowdown in lawyer job growth is somewhat greater losses in bar admits and law school graduates, 13 percent and 14 percent, respectively. The result is that 24 states and the District of Columbia have smaller lawyer and law graduate surpluses in 2014 than 2012. Overwhelmingly, the cause in these jurisdictions is modest annual job growth projections coupled with strong losses in new graduates and new lawyers. Here’s the full table.

# STATE/BEA REGION NO. ABA LAW SCHOOL GRADS NO. BAR ADMITS RATIO ABA GRADS TO ANNUAL LAWYER JOBS RATIO BAR ADMITS TO ANNUAL LAWYER JOBS
2013 2015 2013 2015 2013 2015 2013 2015
1 Wyoming 78 73 161 198 2.60 3.65 5.37 9.90
2 North Dakota 75 79 267 219 1.88 2.63 6.68 7.30
3 Alaska 0 0 130 140 0.00 0.00 6.50 7.00
4 New Hampshire 107 70 250 272 2.14 1.75 5.00 6.80
5 Puerto Rico 662 569 491 458 5.09 8.13 3.78 6.54
6 New Jersey 859 585 3,386 2,586 1.41 1.39 5.55 6.16
7 New Mexico 114 112 287 292 1.43 1.87 3.59 4.87
8 Massachusetts 2,391 2,164 2,411 1,981 4.27 5.15 4.31 4.72
9 Hawaii 108 111 206 188 2.16 2.78 4.12 4.70
10 South Dakota 73 63 121 93 1.83 3.15 3.03 4.65
11 Wisconsin 485 447 843 781 1.67 2.63 2.91 4.59
12 Missouri 883 700 1,034 1,051 2.32 2.80 2.72 4.20
13 New York 5,007 4,105 10,251 8,867 2.55 1.91 5.23 4.12
14 Washington 654 579 1,353 1,759 0.98 1.35 2.02 4.09
15 Maryland 600 537 1,742 1,382 1.54 1.49 4.47 3.84
16 Tennessee 501 533 1,011 741 1.32 2.67 2.66 3.71
17 Minnesota 942 723 1,028 939 3.62 2.78 3.95 3.61
18 Vermont 203 163 151 108 5.08 5.43 3.78 3.60
19 Illinois 2,278 2,036 3,184 2,525 2.48 2.75 3.46 3.41
20 Louisiana 936 822 533 630 3.47 4.33 1.97 3.32
21 South Carolina 442 335 598 494 2.21 2.23 2.99 3.29
22 Alabama 427 351 503 454 2.37 2.51 2.79 3.24
23 Pennsylvania 1,703 1,418 2,241 1,927 2.03 2.25 2.67 3.06
24 Utah 292 258 499 548 1.17 1.43 2.00 3.04
25 Iowa 328 263 416 356 2.52 2.19 3.20 2.97
26 Maine 96 78 183 145 1.60 1.56 3.05 2.90
27 Mississippi 377 274 305 232 4.71 3.43 3.81 2.90
28 District of Columbia 2,181 1,916 3,120 2,389 3.16 2.31 4.52 2.88
29 Georgia 1,085 931 1,377 1,205 1.60 2.22 2.03 2.87
30 Ohio 1,474 1,088 1,444 1,172 2.59 2.65 2.53 2.86
31 Michigan 2,206 1,606 1,248 1,082 N/A 4.02 N/A 2.71
32 Kansas 324 255 393 340 2.16 1.96 2.62 2.62
33 Nebraska 249 245 316 285 2.49 2.23 3.16 2.59
34 North Carolina 1,429 1,422 1,091 1,072 2.80 3.39 2.14 2.55
35 California 5,184 4,392 7,008 6,150 2.17 1.81 2.93 2.54
36 Indiana 834 764 675 625 3.48 3.06 2.81 2.50
37 Oregon 527 427 659 574 3.29 1.78 4.12 2.39
38 Connecticut 541 477 680 530 2.46 2.07 3.09 2.30
39 Virginia 1,440 1,277 1,590 1,252 2.44 2.32 2.69 2.28
40 Montana 81 82 204 158 1.35 1.17 3.40 2.26
41 Arizona 640 705 906 835 1.49 1.91 2.11 2.26
42 Arkansas 275 255 302 268 2.29 1.96 2.52 2.06
43 Rhode Island 174 129 201 175 N/A 1.43 N/A 1.94
44 Colorado 437 439 1,217 1,125 0.73 0.73 2.03 1.88
45 Kentucky 422 395 668 463 1.41 1.58 2.23 1.85
46 Florida 3,190 2,718 3,476 3,177 1.65 1.54 1.80 1.79
47 Texas 2,323 2,075 3,836 3,346 1.29 1.08 2.13 1.74
48 Delaware 279 170 148 99 3.49 2.83 1.85 1.65
49 Oklahoma 468 380 463 350 1.87 1.73 1.85 1.59
50 Nevada 132 131 343 321 0.88 0.49 2.29 1.19
N/A Idaho 117 106 231 212 1.95 N/A 3.85 N/A
N/A West Virginia 130 125 274 242 N/A N/A N/A N/A
STATES (EXCL. P.R.) 43,474 37,423 63,010 54,644 2.09 1.98 3.03 2.90
U.S.A. (EXCL. P.R.) 46,101 39,389 64,964 56,355 2.35 2.50 3.31 3.57
New England 3,338 2,952 3,675 3,036 3.59 3.83 3.95 3.94
Mideast 10,629 8,731 20,888 17,250 2.33 1.96 4.57 3.88
Great Lakes 5,071 4,335 6,146 5,103 2.51 2.76 3.04 3.25
Plains 2,874 2,328 3,575 3,283 2.61 2.53 3.25 3.57
Southeast 10,524 9,313 11,454 9,988 2.01 2.17 2.19 2.32
Southwest 3,545 3,272 5,492 4,823 1.38 1.27 2.15 1.88
Rocky Mountains 888 852 2,081 2,029 0.94 0.98 2.21 2.33
Far West 6,605 5,640 9,699 9,132 1.92 1.65 2.82 2.67

Of the 22 states that produced higher lawyer surpluses than before, all but three showed steep declines in annual lawyer job creation, nearly all of them over 25 percent. Washington State stands out in particular because it admitted 30 percent more lawyers while its lawyer market is expected to produce 36 percent fewer jobs annually. On the other hand, it has 12 percent fewer graduates in 2015 than 2013 and some growth in lawyer employment, so there are reasons to believe its outlook isn’t so bad. Other states tell similar stories.

The BLS’s methodology distinguishes jobs created by economic growth from those created by replacement of people leaving the occupation. The annual number of positions created by growth is measured by simply taking the difference between the predicted number of employed lawyers in 2024 and 2014, and then dividing that by ten. The annual number of jobs created by replacement can be found by subtracting the number of jobs created by growth from the number of jobs created annually. Consequently, it’s possible to explore which category of jobs states think will (or won’t open up). Consistent with the BLS’s national-level employment projections, state governments predominantly predict jobs created by economic growth will plummet while jobs created by vacancies will fall at a smaller rate.

Notably, among states that reported employment data for 2012 and 2014, the cumulative number of annual openings (18,870) is much higher than the BLS’s more dour prediction (15,770). This suggests that the BLS is much more pessimistic about lawyer job growth than state governments are. Specifically, about 41 percent of lawyer job openings will be created by growth according to the state projections as opposed to 28 percent as reported by the BLS. Hopefully the former will pan out for new graduates who pass the bar.

Overall, it’s good news that lawyer surpluses are falling, even if it isn’t a widespread phenomenon and not due to a bright future for the legal profession. It’s unclear why state governments and the BLS are so pessimistic about lawyer job growth compared to two years ago. The ultimate cause may be due to predictions of slow job growth in general and not lawyer jobs specifically. Although that development is discouraging, the crash in law students is compensating for it, meaning fewer graduates will struggle to find work.

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.

Site Update: Lawyer Overproduction Page

You can find it here or in the “original research (updated)” menu above. It’s long overdue as I’ve received requests for its sources.

I also delisted the “law schools and law students per capita” page. It hadn’t been updated in around three years, and the lawyer overproduction page pretty much supersedes it. It’s a little sad because that was the first research project I started on this blog back in the summer of ’10. Maybe I’ll come up with a reason to put it back into the mix, but not now.

New BLS Employment Projections: Only 196,500 New Lawyer Jobs by 2022

Despite the shutdown, the Bureau of Labor Statistics managed to update its employment projections for 2012 to 2022 a tad earlier than I expected. You can find them here.

One bit of good news for the legal profession is that between 2010 and 2012, the BLS estimated some growth in the number of lawyers employed in the U.S., 728,200 in 2010, 759,800 today. It’s about the same as in 2008 (759,200). However, back in 2002, the BLS projected 813,000 lawyer jobs for 2012, so once again, the projections were overoptimistic.

BLS OOH Lawyer Employment Projections

The bad news is that the projected number of employed lawyers in 2022 (834,700) is lower than in previous years, e.g. 857,700 in 2018. Moreover, the job growth rate is declining. In 2020, the BLS projected a total of 212,000 jobs due to growth and replacement. Between 2012 and 2022, the total is 196,500 lawyer positions. Dividing by ten, this means that 19,650 jobs are predicted to be created annually. Despite the law school applicant nosedive, the number of jobs law graduates and lawyers will be competing over appear to be diminishing, mainly due to fewer positions being replaced.

Here’s the master lawyer oversupply and law graduate overproduction chart. The 2000 edition of the Official Guide lists the number of new lawyers, and I supplemented that with National Conference of Bar Examiners data on lawyer licensing (which includes some people who were admitted by examination in more than one jurisdiction, so there’s some overcounting).

Lawyer and Law Graduate Projections (1983-2022)

I’d comment more, but…

I have to give a lecture on college education and student loan debt at the Henry George School of Social Science at 6:30, TONIGHT (i.e. Friday, December 20, 2013). DETAILS HERE.

BLS Updates Its 2020 Employment Projections: For Law Students, It’s Very Bad

It turns out the Bureau of Labor Statistics updated its Employment Projections in February, though the Occupational Outlook Handbook will have to wait until later this month. Data for 2010-2020 are now available.

For lawyers, the 2010-2020 projection is even worse than 2008-2018, when the BLS predicted that the legal profession would add 98,500 new jobs and replace 141,900 lawyers who left the field by the end of the ten-year period. The new projection revises the number of lawyer jobs downward to 73,600 new jobs and 138,400 due to replacement. Note that the difference between the two sets of numbers places most of the loss on new lawyer positions. Incidentally, the BLS calculates 31,000 lost attorney jobs in 2009 and 2010. By comparison, dentists and doctors both saw job gains between 2008 and 2010, and both professions should encounter shortages by 2020 based on recent (albeit slightly older) graduation rates.

Alarmingly, extending the BLS’ 2018 projection to 2010, we find that there would’ve been 879,800 lawyer jobs, so the new projection sees a legal profession with 78,000 fewer positions than before, an 8.8 percent loss.

Here’s a chart to clarify.

Yes, the projections include self-employed lawyers, and yes, I still believe that the Current Population Survey greatly overstates the number of employed lawyers. That doesn’t make the employment projections correct, but I think they’re more accurate given the legal profession’s attrition rate relative to the number of J.D. holders.

And for those of you who think the Lesser Depression is the culprit, once again the BLS says that it’s projecting full employment in the target year:

“How do the BLS employment projections account for recessions?

The analysis underlying the BLS employment projections focuses on long-term structural change and growth and assumes a full employment economy in the target year. To the extent that recessions can cause long-term structural change, they may impact the projections. However, BLS does not project recessions.

How were the BLS 2010-20 employment projections affected by the recent recession?

The BLS employment projections are based on analysis of long-term structural changes to the economy, not short-term business cycle fluctuations. BLS does not attempt to project the peaks and troughs of business cycles, and the BLS projections model assumes a full employment economy in 2020, the target year. The 2010 (base year) employment for many industries still had not recovered to pre-recessionary levels when the 2010-20 projections were developed. This low employment, coupled with an expected return to full employment over the 10-year projections period, means faster growth rates and more numerous openings than might have been expected in these industries and their occupations had the recession not occurred.

Now, to ask, how does this look for new lawyers, to say nothing of the bottleneck that’s been swelling for the last decade at least?

Assuming graduation levels are flat, i.e. ~44,000 as they were in 2010, then we have 440,000 new law grads for 212,000 jobs, a projected employment rate of 48 percent.

If there are more grads as new law schools open or receive accreditation (Indiana Tech, North Texas, UMass, and others), then the ratio will be that much worse. If enrollments start dropping, more people will find work.

What does this mean precisely? The projection is over a long period of time, which can cause some unexpected distortions. For instance, law jobs that have high turnover rates will be held by multiple graduates who will be counted as employed in NALPian terms. If your garden variety new Biglaw associate position lasts exactly five years, then on average between two and three graduates will fill it every 10 years. Likewise, lawyer positions that have shorter life expectancies, especially solo practitioners, will have even higher turnover rates and will be filled by even more graduates. Moreover, as the BLS’ FAQ answer points out, as some industries recover to full employment they will refill lost positions and then add the new ones.

This is better news for law schools than for law students because it will skew graduation-plus-nine-month employment numbers upward, even though the medium- and long-term value of a law degree won’t be available to prospective law students. Remember, when two grads lacking other options form a law firm, they’re in “J.D. required” positions at 2-10-person law firms, even if the firm has a high chance of collapsing within a few years and the principals move on to more consistent work.

Law Graduate Overproduction by State (aka “The Holy Grail”)

[****THIS IS THE ORIGINAL POST ON LAW GRADUATE OVERPRODUCTION. THE PERMANENT VERSION OF THIS POST CAN BE FOUND ON THIS PAGE. PLEASE LINK TO THAT INSTEAD.****]

Choropleth Map of ABA Graduates per Job Opening by State (Indiana & Iowa are average)

This week’s breakthrough—discovering the national lawyer replacement projection data from 2008 to 2018 (240,400 gross jobs)—led to an even bigger breakthrough: lawyer replacement data by state over the same time period. I never dreamed I’d be able to find this when I started this blog.

Taking 2009 graduate numbers from the LSAC against state lawyer employment projections, we can compare lawyer overproduction state-by-state, telling us where there are too many law students and law schools. There are a few limitations with the data:

(1)  They necessarily exclude non-ABA law schools because no centralized authorities track them. This is unfortunate because non-ABA law schools account for 16.74% of all law schools (I continue to exclude correspondence schools and the JAG school). Mainly this means California’s values are extremely suspect.

(2)  The sum of the state replacement projections does not come close to the federal government’s projection. More below.

(3)  South Dakota does not provide any data, but it can’t have any more than 2,000 employed lawyers in 2008. My guess is its projections should be similar to North Dakota’s and Montana’s.

(4)  Overproduction assumes every graduate works in the state he or she attended law school. This obviously isn’t true. It’s also theoretically possible that some law schools deliberately “underbid” those in other states, i.e. cheaply producing better lawyers and exporting them to undercut local law schools (Widener’s Gambit?). I dismiss this hypothesis as dubious given tuition rates, and ultimately it doesn’t matter. The oversupply problem wouldn’t exist if there were clear attorney shortages to compensate for surplus production in other regions. The following results demonstrate only two states underproducing lawyers: Alaska and Nevada, but those two can’t possibly absorb the tens of thousands of excess law graduates produced per year elsewhere.

On the other hand, there are two pieces of good news:

(a)   the 2008 employment numbers are close enough between the states and the national government that they look like they include self-employed attorneys (solos and partners), and

(b)  The BLS assumes the economy will be at full employment by 2018, so as far as overproduction is concerned, we need not worry about today’s underemployed attorneys whom the BLS predicts will be employed doing something else (though that says nothing about their student debt and whether they’ll be gainfully employed at all).

Here’s a chart of the results, sorted by annual ABA graduate surplus because absolute overproduction more dramatically impacts the legal education system and people’s lives than relative overproduction.

The number in parentheses is the number of ABA-accredited law schools in that state as of 2011. * means the state has one or more non-ABA accredited law schools, and as always D.C. and Puerto Rico are counted as states for the purposes of this analysis.

# STATE Average Annual Job Openings ABA Grads (2009) Annual Surplus Grads/ Opening
1 New York (15) 1,700 4,776 3,076 2.81
2 California (20)* 2,360 4,688 2,328 1.99
3 Massachusetts (7)* 430 2,316 1,886 5.39
4 Michigan (5) 470 2,016 1,546 4.29
5 Florida (11) 1,370 2,787 1,417 2.03
6 District of Columbia (6) 970 2,129 1,159 2.19
7 Pennsylvania (8) 640 1,715 1,075 2.68
8 Illinois (9) 1,130 2,166 1,036 1.92
9 Ohio (9) 460 1,495 1,035 3.25
10 Texas (9) 1,500 2,337 837 1.56
11 Virginia (8) 730 1,429 699 1.96
12 Missouri (4) 220 898 678 4.08
13 North Carolina (7) 450 1,055 605 2.34
14 Minnesota (4) 370 962 592 2.60
15 Louisiana (4) 250 811 561 3.24
16 Indiana (4) 340 828 488 2.44
17 Delaware (1) 60 537 477 8.95
18 Puerto Rico (3) 100 554 454 5.54
19 Oregon (3) 160 531 371 3.32
20 Connecticut (3) 190 531 341 2.79
21 Wisconsin (2) 190 487 297 2.56
22 Oklahoma (3) 210 494 284 2.35
23 Maryland (2) 270 548 278 2.03
24 Washington (3) 440 694 254 1.58
25 New Jersey (3) 540 791 251 1.46
26 Tennessee (3)* 210 445 235 2.12
27 South Carolina (2) 190 405 215 2.13
28 Kentucky (3) 180 385 205 2.14
29 Alabama (3)* 200 405 205 2.03
30 Iowa (2) 140 341 201 2.44
31 Mississippi (2) 150 347 197 2.31
32 Colorado (2) 330 518 188 1.57
33 Nebraska (2) 100 280 180 2.80
34 Arkansas (2) 110 249 139 2.26
35 Georgia (5) 760 896 136 1.18
36 Vermont (1) 60 191 131 3.18
37 Kansas (2) 170 297 127 1.75
38 Rhode Island (1) 80 184 104 2.30
39 Arizona (3) 280 378 98 1.35
40 New Hampshire (1) 50 144 94 2.88
41 West Virginia (1) 60 149 89 2.48
42 North Dakota (1) 30 83 53 2.77
43 Maine (1) 50 93 43 1.86
44 New Mexico (1) 70 112 42 1.60
45 Wyoming (1) 30 71 41 2.37
46 Hawaii (1) 60 88 28 1.47
47 Montana (1) 60 77 17 1.28
48 Idaho (1) 90 93 3 1.03
49 Utah (2) 280 281 1 1.00
50 Nevada (1) 150 140 -10 0.93
51 Alaska (0) 30 0 -30 0.00
52 South Dakota (1) N/A 73 N/A N/A
USA (199) 24,040 44,000 19,960 1.83

You’ll note that the USA is supposed to add 24,040 lawyer jobs per year even though adding the individual state entries in the third column equals only 19,470, a deficit of 4,570 lawyer jobs per year that I highly doubt are all in South Dakota. The lower state sum means that the economy will gross only 194,700 lawyer jobs by 2018, and the national graduate to job ratio will be 2.2. The difference between the state sum and the national projection is important because the national number implies a 45.4% reduction in enrollments (~90 law schools) to stabilize the system while the former state number implies a larger 54.5% enrollment reduction equal to about 109 law schools. I don’t know what methodology labor departments use, but kudos go to Frank the Underemployed Professional of Fluster Cucked for subtracting ABA grads from forty years ago and coming up with a surplus similar to the BLS’s projection. For stats wonks, the median state surplus is 235, the mean 485.43, and the standard deviation 630.75.

As for the ratio of graduates to job openings, the median is 2.26, the mean 2.44, and the standard deviation 1.37. Only Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and Alaska are below the first standard deviation; Michigan and Missouri are in the second standard deviation above the average; Massachusetts and Puerto Rico are in the third, and Delaware is in the fifth.

To spare you another table, here’s a chart listing the graduate to job ratio:


For giggles, here’s Widener’s (DE) most recent bar passage rates as reported to the ABA and LSAC:

Of the 193 graduates in 2009 who were employed nine months after graduation, less than one quarter (48) were employed in-state. Graduates flocked to twelve (!) other states, and a clear majority took the Pennsylvania bar. Widener didn’t even bother reporting how many people took the Delaware bar. So the 8.95 graduates to annual job openings ratio isn’t implausible at all.

And for an appendix, here’s a table of the states by employed lawyers, growth rates, net jobs between 2008 and 2018, and the average annual job openings.

STATE Employed Lawyers(2008) Projected LawyerEmployment(2018) Growth Rate Net Jobs(2018)
Average AnnualJobOpenings
Alabama (3)* 7,910 8,420 6.45% 510 200
Alaska (0) 1,330 1,270 -4.51% -60 30
Arizona (3) 11,880 12,450 4.80% 570 280
Arkansas (2) 3,430 3,840 11.95% 410 110
California (20)* 94,900 100,800 6.22% 5,900 2,360
Colorado (2) 14,090 14,710 4.40% 620 330
Connecticut (3) 9,940 9,930 -0.10% -10 190
Delaware (1) 2,900 3,000 3.45% 100 60
District of Columbia (6) 42,410 44,180 4.17% 1,770 970
Florida (11) 52,980 56,820 7.25% 3,840 1,370
Georgia (5) 20,900 24,560 17.51% 3,660 760
Hawaii (1) 2,970 2,950 -0.67% -20 60
Idaho (1) 2,710 3,080 13.65% 370 90
Illinois (9) 38,080 42,290 11.06% 4,210 1,130
Indiana (4) 9,740 11,310 16.12% 1,570 340
Iowa (2) 4,340 4,910 13.13% 570 140
Kansas (2) 5,210 5,940 14.01% 730 170
Kentucky (3) 6,510 7,070 8.60% 560 180
Louisiana (4) 10,770 11,270 4.64% 500 250
Maine (1) 2,800 2,800 0.00% 0 50
Maryland (2) 14,300 13,570 -5.10% -730 270
Massachusetts (7)* 21,600 21,900 1.39% 300 430
Michigan (5) 19,030 20,210 6.20% 1,180 470
Minnesota (4) 15,290 16,160 5.69% 870 370
Mississippi (2) 5,260 5,740 9.13% 480 150
Missouri (4) 11,520 11,410 -0.95% -110 220
Montana (1) 1,870 2,070 10.70% 200 60
Nebraska (2) 3,400 3,750 10.29% 350 100
Nevada (1) 4,840 5,690 17.56% 850 150
New Hampshire (1) 2,350 2,400 2.13% 50 50
New Jersey (3) 28,650 28,650 0.00% 0 540
New Mexico (1) 3,550 3,580 0.85% 30 70
New York (15) 86,140 87,080 1.09% 940 1,700
North Carolina (7) 14,310 16,170 13.00% 1,860 450
North Dakota (1) 1,240 1,300 4.84% 60 30
Ohio (9) 19,860 20,750 4.48% 890 460
Oklahoma (3) 8,100 8,680 7.16% 580 210
Oregon (3) 4,980 5,610 12.65% 630 160
Pennsylvania (8) 28,400 29,400 3.52% 1,000 640
Puerto Rico (3) 4,180 4,350 4.07% 170 100
Rhode Island (1) 2,710 2,980 9.96% 270 80
South Carolina (2) 6,640 7,260 9.34% 620 190
South Dakota (1) N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Tennessee (3)* 8,720 9,160 5.05% 440 210
Texas (9) 44,680 51,360 14.95% 6,680 1,500
Utah (2) 7,080 8,580 21.19% 1,500 280
Vermont (1) 2,070 2,270 9.66% 200 60
Virginia (8) 19,780 23,390 18.25% 3,610 730
Washington (3) 14,840 16,320 9.97% 1,480 440
West Virginia (1) 2,940 2,970 1.02% 30 60
Wisconsin (2) 10,390 10,230 -1.54% -160 190
Wyoming (1) 940 1,040 10.64% 100 30
—– —– —– —– —– —–
TOTALS 765,460 815,630 6.55% 50,170 19,470
USA AVERAGE (199) 759,200 857,700 12.97% 98,500 24,040
***Difference*** -6,260 42,070 48,330 4,570

I include the “Difference” at the bottom to alert readers to the fact that while the 2008 employment numbers largely correspond between the states and the BLS (which I suspect excludes Puerto Rico), the 2018 employment projections simply do not line up. The federal government predicts 5.2% more employed attorneys than the states do, as well as a much faster growth rate. I’ll bet there’s a state government or two in there that’s not counting self-employed attorneys. If not, let’s hope the BLS is right and state governments aren’t because that’s 45,700 more graduates who will never see the inside of the legal profession.

Legal Profession 1994-2008: 103,200 lawyer jobs for 561,220 ABA grads

“That the current employment rate is not lower [than 88.3%] is further evidence of the resilience and remarkably steady employment market for U.S. law school graduates, even in times of relative economic weakness.” – Selected Findings for the Class of 2009 (NALP)

Reading statements like these, Annie Lowery’s Slate article attributing the law school application drop to the scambloggers and the improving economy, and the Public Interest Institute’s study led me to ponder what government data have to say about overall employment for lawyers. Assuming every ABA law school graduate wants to become an attorney, i.e. highly discounting the “versatile juris doctor” argument, things have been very bad for law students for a long time. True, some people do pursue legal educations for non-attorney career tracks and others pursue second degrees and enter other fields, but this assumption must hold true if law schools are to be taken seriously at all. I culled Bureau of Labor Statistics attorney employment numbers courtesy of Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine. Apparently, for at least as long as the Internet has existed, the BLS has been banging the lawyer oversupply gong.

Let’s compare employed attorneys to ABA law school graduate output. I don’t have replacement data for this time period.

While the lines match up somewhat in the early 2000s, the growth in employed attorneys is insufficient to absorb all the graduates. To better illustrate, let’s compare net lawyer job growth to ABA graduate output.

The green line shows the required imputed lawyer attrition rate if we were to employ every graduate. Now, we know not all graduates get jobs (and how), we also know attorneys leave the field voluntarily or otherwise (including recent graduates counted earlier), so the imputed attrition rate is an idealistic calculation. Additionally, unfortunately for this dataset, 2001 and 2003 were bullish hiring years for the profession and the BLS gathers data on even numbered years. Oh well, not my problem. We also know that the quality of jobs has been decreasing: more contract work, deferred start dates, and growth in new solo practitioners trying to make a go of things.

Here’s the table:

YEAR: Employed Lawyers Net Growth ABA Grads Required Attrition
1994 656,000 N/A N/A N/A
~1996 622,000 -34,000 78,981 -112,981
~1998 681,000 59,000 80,034 -21,034
~2000 681,000 0 78,526 -78,526
~2002 695,000 14,000 76,066 -62,066
~2004 735,000 40,000 77,479 -37,479
~2006 761,000 26,000 82,696 -56,696
~2008 759,200 -1,800 87,438 -89,238
Totals: 15.73% 103,200 561,220 -458,020

In sum, the economy added a paltry 103,200 lawyer jobs (barely one percent annual growth) for 561,220 graduates between 1994 and 2008. That’s 5.44 graduates per lawyer position over that time period, sadly excluding the replacement rate. In 2009 and 2010, a total of 87,592 people graduated from an ABA law school, and at the 2010 going forward (44,004), between 2008 and 2018 there will be 439,624 new ABA law graduates to compete for 240,400 lawyer jobs, a rate of 1.83 graduates per job. For an apples-to-apples comparison, it’ll be 439,624 graduates to a net of 98,500 jobs, or 4.46:1, which is better than what we’ve had in the past. Because the system is still growing, the actual ratio will increase. If we want a 1:1 applicant to job ratio, enrollments will have to be reduced by more than 55% as of 2008, and that says nothing graduates from non-ABA law schools. The BLS assumes the economy will be at full employment by 2018, so thankfully we can omit underemployed lawyers.

ABA Awakens?

Which leads me to the ABA Standards Review Committee’s Consumer Information Subcommittee’s proposed change to law school employment disclosure requirements.

Anyone who’s read the chart on page 4 will undoubtedly agree it’s a step-up from today’s law school advertising. Transparency advocates must be licking their lips. My complaints are (a) it idealistically assumes everyone who’s employed has had only one job nine months after graduation, and (b) like all transparency initiatives, it is subject to the whim of the “nine months after graduation” standard, which the ABA collects in place of “employed at graduation” because many employers won’t hire people until they’ve passed a bar exam. Law schools, NALP, and transparentists can’t tell us what will happen to graduates two or more years from graduation, even though it’s critical information applicants need. The data I’ve gathered here are the best proxy we have.

If the standard is adopted, expect law schools to lean hard on the bottleneck and versatile JD arguments, convincing applicants that they’ll be employed in the future because the economy is improving just for them. They’ll essentially sell out recent graduates, but law schools will say that students take on the market risk and that they aren’t responsible for the economy, which is true. However, it’s safe to say that if scambloggers can convince people not to go, the law schools’ own shocking employment data will do quite a bit of damage to their own credibility. 0Ls’ reasonableness will be put to the test, though I personally believe many people will still go to law school out of perceived financial desperation. I doubt transparency will be sufficient to save the legal education system.

Adoption of the ABA proposal is also a subtle moral test of the transparency movement, which I’ve felt has been opaque about the lawyer oversupply problem. I hope transparency advocates (to say nothing of the incredible NALP) aren’t surprised at the results that logically follow from what the government has been saying since I was in middle school: A long-term career as a lawyer is a fantasy for the majority of law students and for the federal government that unquestioningly finances the legal education system.