Lawyering Jobs

November 21st, 2017 / By

I’ve written before about the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections program. Every other year, the statisticians associated with that program count the number of existing “lawyer” jobs as part of their work. This count is especially useful because it includes both salaried and self employed workers. The biennial counts thus include solo practitioners, law firm partners, and practicing lawyers who earn a salary from any source.

The counts offer an excellent opportunity to track the growth of lawyering jobs. Here are the number of “lawyer” jobs reported in selected years since 1978, when the program began:

  • 1978:   380,000
  • 1988:   582,000
  • 1998:   681,000
  • 2008:  759,200
  • 2010:  728,200
  • 2012:  759,800
  • 2014:  778,700

As I’ve written before, those figures show that the number of jobs for lawyers is still growing–but the pace of growth has slowed considerably. Between 2012 and 2014, the number of lawyering jobs increased by just 9,450 positions per year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released the figures for 2016, and the news is sobering. In 2016, the Bureau counted just 792,500 “lawyer” jobs in the economy. That’s an increase of only 13,800 positions since 2014–or just 6,900 positions per year. That’s better than the anemic growth between 2008 and 2014 (which included periods of job loss), but worse than growth in most other two-year periods.

These figures, unfortunately, coincide with ones released by the ABA for recent graduates. Since 2013, the number of “lawyer” jobs for new JDs has fallen each year, from 26,653 for the Class of 2013 to 22,930 for the Class of 2016. (Figures for the Class of 2017 won’t be available until next spring.) Graduating classes have been smaller, so the percentage of employed graduates has improved somewhat–but the number of jobs found by those graduates has declined.

To me, the BLS projections underscore the wisdom of creating programs that allow college graduates to perform some aspects of law practice. There is plenty of demand for legal services–just not at the price demanded by fully licensed JDs. Rather than continue producing JDs at rates the job market can’t absorb, schools would be wise to consider alternative programs.

These figures also counsel caution about recent upticks in LSAT takers. More students may be considering law school, but schools need to remain wary about the employment market. If we admit more students, will employment rates fall again?

* Note: The BLS statistics for “lawyer” jobs report only positions listed under that category. Some BLS tables also report small numbers of judges and law clerks, but I have eliminated those categories for simplicity.

 

 

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