Attorney Overproduction

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.

BLS: 74,800 New Lawyer Jobs by 2026, Turnover of 22 Percent

On October 24th, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its employment projections for the next cycle, 2016-26.

For 2016, the BLS Employment Projections program (EPP) estimates that there were 792,500 lawyer positions (as opposed to discrete lawyers) in the United States. This figure includes self-employed lawyers. In 2014, the EPP found 778,700 lawyer positions, so there has been some growth between the two years. According to the BLS’s Current Population Survey (CPS), in 2016, 1.133 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.

Click here to read more:

(more…)

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.