J.D. Overproduction

Class of 2016 NALP Data

Happy post-Labor Day. Now back to work, Peasants!

Or, read on.

A few weeks ago, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) published the national summary report for its Employment Report and Salary Survey (ERSS) (pdf). As with the last two years, I comb the data for more information that the NALP may not have commented on. Much of the NALP report focuses on year-over-year changes to percentages of employed graduates that aren’t very illuminating, especially when the resulting percentages of employed graduates are barely budging. Here’s what they look like.

I’m aware that we now have three consecutive years of data showing graduate employment outcomes ten months after graduation rather than nine, but I really don’t think that makes much of a difference.

It appears that the percentage of graduates not working fell a whopping 0.8 percent. Whoa.

Here’s also the number of graduates employed by status.

We’re seeing a pretty steep fall in total graduates, but the number and proportion of them not working is still higher than the peak employment year of 2007. A lot of this is elevated bar failure rates, but even so the JD-advantage category is still elevated. The NALP says 40 percent of grads in these jobs are seeking other work, which tells me these positions aren’t worth much. In fact, much of their growth (not shown) is visible in business-and-industry positions, further suggesting the definition of JD-advantage is overbroad. They also strongly correlate negatively with bar-passage-required jobs and positively with grads not working.

Here’s the contribution to the percent change in law grads by employment status since 2007 and going back to 2001. We can see that despite falling total grads, a greater proportion of them are either not working or in JD-advantage positions (which are probably not legal jobs themselves).

Meanwhile, with bar-passage-required jobs contributing -15.7 percent to the -14.6 percent change in law-grad outcomes, here’s how private-practice positions have fared (-9.2 percent to all 2007 grads).

The class of 2016 is the first one to be wholly below the 2007 line, meaning that even tiny firms aren’t hiring grads like they did in the peak year. Supply of law grads does not create demand for legal services, strongly indicating that grads in past years who found these jobs only worked in them transiently until they left the legal labor market.

The NALP’s selected findings (pdf) discuss “tightness” in the job market now or at least compared to the pre-recession market. The large fall in bar-passage-required jobs and private-practice jobs argues otherwise. A tighter market would see more grads working in bigger firms and smaller firms raising wages, something the NALP’s own data don’t depict.


Prior reporting on this topic:


A Retrospective on Obama’s Higher Education Accomplishments

“Obama” appears in 38 of the 641 posts I’ve published on this site since it began in May 2010. A few weeks before he left office, I threatened to investigate what I’d written about him or his administration over those six-plus years. The short answer is that if you didn’t know any better, you’d’ve thought this author was a Bernie Bro.

But I do know better, and no, I’m not a Bernie Bro, but my thoughts on the 2016 election are for another post. Until then, I can’t argue with much of what I’ve written about Obama.

Consider this gem from, “Bucket, Meet Drop, or Why We Shouldn’t Tolerate Electoral Sunk Costs,” October 27, 2011:

This is what I mean by “electoral sunk costs”: It’s one thing to wake up one morning and realize you’re wedded to policies that sell jet-setting globalization but in reality force people to reduce their life expectations to McJobs. It’s another thing to go out and campaign on, “This country has been wrecked by kleptocrats. Time for the rich to ‘suffer’ painful reforms, and pay no attention to the fact that we just spent four years on hope and change and delivered neither.”

A weasel hath not such a deal of spleen as I am tossed with.

In faith, I don’t disagree with this position. “President Obama squandered an opportunity to be the FDR voters hoped he’d be,” I would write a few weeks later, and indeed, in higher education Obama was no visionary.

Here’s a summary my writings on Obama’s statements or his administration’s actions on higher education and student loans. The order is non-chronological.

  • College for all

I wrote a few posts on Obama or his administration’s overall higher-education agenda. Apparently, in August 2010 he said, “[Higher] education is the economic issue of our time.” (The White House has taken down the transcript. Hm.) He reasoned that because unemployment was double for non-college graduates than college grads, and that eight in ten jobs over the next decade would require workforce training or higher education, we needed to send more people to college. How the Great Recession suddenly made all these workers redundant escaped him; so much for aggregate demand.

He didn’t budge from that position. In “‘Hope and Change,’ Meet ‘No Hope, Cosmetic Change’” (February 19, 2013) I found that Obama’s Treasury Department and Education Department joined forces to argue the economic case for higher education. Treasury and ED believed that skill-biased technological change was forcing people out of work, even though the Labor Department projected more job growth in lower-wage service sector jobs than skilled ones. Labor productivity hasn’t gone far in the last decade either.

Obama even walked back the “Eight in ten” line a year after he made it. By 2011, only 60 percent of new jobs over the next decade would require more than a high-school diploma. I traced the source of that statement to a paper by the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce, which warned that by 2018—next year!—the U.S. would be short 300,000 college-educated workers. The paper dismissed pessimistic estimates of Labor Department data showing that tens of millions of college graduates are and would be “malemployed” because they worked in jobs that don’t require any real education.

  • Promoting income-driven repayment (IDR) plans

If there’s one thing that’s driven me nuts about writing about student loans is all the names that the government and journalists gave to IDR plans. To this day I still casually refer to them as IBR, but after the administration created Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE), then REPAYE, and then distinguishing ICR from PSLF, it got exhausting. The salient point though is that under Obama, the government created a bunch of improved repayment plans, and promoted the existing ones that the earlier W. Bush government made.

Naturally, critics—mainly The Wall Street Journal and the New America Foundation—attacked the plans’ loan-forgiveness features and then raised alarms over the administration’s success at enrolling debtors on them. For example, in, “WSJ: Big Numbers Divided by Small Numbers Yield Large Percentages,” I made fun of the publication for its slant against student debtors. Primarily the criticism of IDR plans focuses on graduate- and professional-school debtors who are certain to obtain high-paying jobs and therefore need IDR plans—to say nothing of PSLF—least. These outlets almost never separate the problems of IDR plans from the odious Grad PLUS Loan Program, which is responsible for graduates’ high debt levels in the first place.

Obama’s myopia on the value of college education was offset by his recognition that student debtors were hurting. Relying on a legislative framework created by his predecessor, the result is a cumbersome system (for debtors) that prevents widespread defaults and more Occupy Wall Street-type protests. At one point, he even proposed a budget that would change how the tax code treats forgiven loans.

  • The “gainful employment” rule

The Department of Education began working on the “gainful employment” rule early in Obama’s first term. Frequently criticized as unfairly targeting entrepreneurs, the rule attempts to ensure that for-profit colleges don’t exploit the federal loan system. It’s too bad federal law doesn’t authorize this kind of accountability toward all institutions, because if the “gainful employment” rule were applied to all law schools, many of them would fail quite quickly and a majority would be in serious trouble.

  • Ending the Federal Family Education Loan Program, buying up student loans.

One of the Affordable Care Act’s smaller cost-saving mechanisms was eliminating the program that guaranteed education loans by private banks, which are not to be confused with totally private loans. The program, which was the mainstay version of federal lending for decades, was a great way for banks to make easy profits. By socializing student lending, the government saved many billions of dollars, and made direct loans the only federal option for student debtors.

The Republican Party’s platform is to bring it back.

I discussed the ACA part here, but I think the numbers might be wrong because I didn’t consider that the government was buying up guaranteed loans, turning them into direct loans. This action is what will set the stage for many people shrieking that the government would lend $30 trillion by 2030 and more importantly a future write-down of the loans outstanding. Debts that cannot be repaid, won’t be. The only question is whether the write-down occurs through IDR mechanisms or something new. Here is where Obama kicked the can down the line to his successors.

  • Undoing subsidized loans for grad students, floating student loan interest rates

One result of the pointless debt-ceiling fight in 2011 was taking away subsidized Stafford loans from graduate- and professional-school students. Ultimately, it cost a new law student about $3,600 in payments.

I’m unsure if it was related to another government crisis, but Obama also signed legislation that floated student loan interest rates. The rates are based solely on the whims of the bond markets every spring. Nevertheless, the legislation has benefited borrowers because interest rates have been lower than the fixed statutory rates in the days of yore. In 2016, graduate/professional Stafford loans and Grad PLUS loans were about 1.5 percent lower than the fixed rates. This will save debtors money in theory, but if rates rise, they’re hosed.

  • The two-year law degree

In summer 2013, Obama even weighed in on legal education, which indicated either the coverage the topic was receiving or his interest as a former law professor. It was a throwaway statement, but I teased him for it in, “Obama Favors Law Graduate Underemployment, Poverty Wages.”

  • Arne Duncan

Finally, I add that I expected Arne Duncan to find a warm seat at the Lumina Foundation after he stepped down as Secretary of Education. Apparently, he defied this expectation, and he’s working with troubled Chicago youth. Good for him, but I still think he was incompetent because he egged Obama on with his college-for-all dogmatism.


Obama made the typical student debtor better off than when he left office—but not by much. Some superficial changes and policy nudges lowered debt burdens and eased repayments, but much of it was incidental to his other objectives.

In light of the 2016 election, what disappoints me most about Obama is his 20th century attitude towards sending everyone to college. I can forgive Sanders, Clinton, and possibly Trump for believing college is the answer. These candidates were the dead hand of the pre-Reagan America trying to fit obsolete policies around new problems. But Obama is younger than these people, and it only makes him look even more like an out-of-touch ivory tower intellectual. Underemployment is still around in 2017, and more self-inflicted political crises will push student debt further down the agenda, so it’s not going to be resolved for a while. Amid today’s excitement, we shouldn’t forget that Obama gave higher education and student loan debt a lost decade.

Indiana Tech Accused of ‘Bait and Switch’

By students of the soon-to-be-closed law school? NO! By a lawyer representing an aggrieved faculty member, according to Fort Wayne’s News-Sentinel:

[Indiana Tech’s board of director’s] decision “throws into chaos the lives and academic plans of the student body. The law school’s tuition is just under $20,000. You don’t have to be a lawyer to be repulsed by this outrageous bait and switch.”

I predict very few lawyers are repulsed by Indiana Tech’s decision. I’m not the first to opine on it, but Indiana Tech School of Law’s demise benefits humanity. It was never fully enrolled, only one of its twelve graduates passed the bar, and at last the board saw the writing in the blue book. Whether it will herald more law school closures is debatable. I think many of its peers will see Indiana Tech as an Icarus rather than a bellwether.

If I were cynical, I’d suspect Indiana Tech knew it was going to fail and used its provisional accreditation as a sword to rescue its students from the ignominy of starting their legal educations over at a more sound ABA school than a shield against total failure.

Otherwise, I have very little to say on this subject, except to remind everyone of those bygone days five years ago when Indiana Tech School of Law was a glint in its board’s eyes—and its Feasibility Committee was warning that there would be an attorney shortage so unbearable that we’d have to import foreign lawyers. Seriously, it was that dishonest.

Now Indiana Tech’s president, Arthur Snyder, concedes, “Over the course of time it has become apparent that the significant decline in law school applicants nationwide represents a long term shift in the legal education field, not a short-term one.”

Many voices warned Indiana Tech not to open a law school. It ignored them and made a $20 million mistake. But don’t expect it to apologize to its students for its hubris—they’re the ones who really paid.

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.

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.

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.

Class of 2015 NALP Data: The Mid-Law Crunch

A few weeks ago, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) published the national summary report for its Employment Report and Salary Survey (ERSS) (pdf). Unlike last year, the chart lists the total number of graduates and the number who reported employment information, and the NALP updated its ERSS national summary chart for the class of 2014 to include that as well. I chided the NALP for omitting these last year, but that’s not a problem now. Good.

My goal today is to quickly glance at the ERSS for information the NALP might not have reported or missed, and to add to the time-series displays of graduate employment outcomes I provided last year. The NALP’s data are far easier to work with than the ABA’s when it comes to longitudinal trends, so this is where to get it. Nevertheless, I don’t have much to say.

The NALP’s selected findings (pdf) focused on the number of graduates finding private practice jobs, the lowest since 1996. There were undoubtedly fewer than 40,000 graduates that year, so compared to 39,984 this year, this is understandable. What is new, as I discussed in May, is that even though the number of graduates fell, the proportion of them finding better work didn’t improve. Large percentages are still working in “JD-advantage” jobs and nearly 11 percent reported being unemployed. This is not what a law-graduate recovery would look like.



Last year, at least, there was some rise in the proportion of employed grads. This year nothing’s changed. Blame all the grads who failed the bar, I guess.

As for the kinds of jobs grads are getting, I’m seeing a mid-law crunch since 2007 that I don’t believe the NALP has discussed.



(Sorry this one’s a little unclear.)

In fact, hiring at firms with 51-250 lawyers shrank the most since 2007, more than 30 percent in each category. Smaller firms have grown—but are now shrinking—and the biggest firms are making a comeback.

I’m not a biglawologist, nor a midlawologist, but if the big firms aren’t annexing the middle ones, then this is a chunk of the profession that’s shrinking. Looking at the After the JD II data, which I know is dated, middle-sized practices tended to have low outflow rates compared to other practice areas. Aside from government work, maybe these were among the best long-term jobs one could get out of law school?

‘Law Deans Are Running Bait and Switch Operation’

…In Australia.

Yes folks, y’all can add Down Under to the list of countries with too many law students chasing too few legal jobs, according to a surprisingly scathing opinion piece in The Australian Financial Review by a law instructor at Macquarie University.

A few quotes:

“Law student numbers are out of hand. Nearly 15,000 finish their degree each year, and enter a market where there are only 66,000 solicitors.” Yikes.

“Law deans are running a bait and switch operation. They hold out the promise of a legal career, while adding to the unemployment queue.”


“[The deans’] claim that the legal problems undertaken in law tutorials are a platform for a generalist degree – that will see students who miss out on a job as a lawyer well placed to enter other high-paid spheres of the economy – is a self-serving myth.”

All this is just more evidence that American legal education does a better job of training law deans to advocate their positions than other countries do. The best they can offer here is the versatile-law-degree argument, but if they want to avoid a government crackdown, they’ll have to lean on increasing diversity in the profession or at least gussy up what they have with some kind of human-capital analysis. Otherwise, these Southern Hemispherians will end up like their Japanese counterparts.

No Libertarians, the ABA Does Not Control The Supply of Lawyers

Writing for Forbes, University of Chicago law professor Todd Henderson explains to us “Why Lawyer Salaries Are Skyrocketing.” Although he attributes most of the cause of the big-law salary hike to the libertarian red-tape boogeyman, Henderson opens the article with long-falsified supply-side reasoning.

On the supply side, the American Bar Association operates a state-approved cartel, which uses a licensing regime to artificially limit the supply of legal services. In a recent white paper, the White House came out against occupational licensing in general, and breaking the ABA cartel would be a good first step in addressing the staggering growth in lawyer pay.

The last time I recall encountering the “ABA attorney shortage” claim in any depth was two years ago when Michael Lind on Salon told us that that the ABA controls the supply of lawyers. Henderson’s argument though more predictably libertarian is nevertheless surprising because only a month ago The New York Times explored law-graduate underemployment in depth. The natural question is, how can Henderson discuss an attorney shortage while graduates a state away from him struggle to find work at far less pay?

In recent years bar-passage rates have played a role in graduate underemployment to some extent, but not all of the 5,004 unemployed or unsurveyed class of 2015 graduates failed the bar. Another 5,400 graduates were in JD-advantage jobs, which frequently includes positions that could be filled with people with less education. These graduates should be pushing lawyer pay down, and this is prior to any discussion of whether big law salaries should track inflation.

Then of course, there’s the fact that payroll lawyers’ incomes have been flat for quite a while.

10th to 90th Percentile Dispersion of Annualized OES Lawyer Incomes

From a business perspective, law firms could also take the same amount of money and substitute more new associates for the same (or less) pay to cover demand for their services. That is, if demand for their services is really an issue.

Then of course, there’s the ABA’s accrediting power, which a Department of Education panel threatened with a one-year suspension not because it’s refusing to accredit more law schools but because it’s accrediting law schools with insufficient regard to graduates’ employment outcomes.

Cleary other forces are responsible for the ~$20,000 big-law pay raise. I insist I’m not a biglawologist and other voices such as Steven Harper are vastly more credible than I am on the subject, but anyone who thinks ABA rules are choking lawyer supply doesn’t have much credibility when it comes to regulatory boogeymen either.