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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Three Adaptations to Attract Applicants

December 3rd, 2013 / By

I wrote earlier this week about three forces that will continue to dampen law school applications, even if overall employment rates improve. Those forces are (1) the greater transparency of job outcomes, (2) the changed composition of those jobs, and (3) the narrowing of entry-level career choices. These trends may have little impact on the fortunes of a few top-ranked schools, but I think other law schools would be wise to consider them. Here are three suggestions for responding to these forces.

Stress Career Paths Rather than Options

Law schools have traditionally stressed the flexibility of a JD, noting the many career paths that follow from legal education. It is true that lawyers pursue many careers, but the immediate choices for individual graduates are relatively constrained in today’s market. Law students, moreover, have to specialize early in law school to compete for some of those positions.

Rather than fight these facts, we should capitalize on them. After working with millennial law students for several years, I’ve observed that they often ask for designated paths. They are less likely than last century’s students to seek open-ended options. Instead, they want to know how to get from “A” (the first day of law school) to “Z” (an entry-level job as a prosecutor).

Today’s applicants, I think, would respond well to specialized programs–as long as the programs offer demonstrated pay-offs in the job market. The next era of transparency may measure outcomes for particular programs. If a law school designs a program for future prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers, and if 90% of students completing the program secure one of those jobs, that will impress applicants. The same principle would hold for other areas of law practice or particular settings, like small firms.

Schools could easily create these paths with existing courses, clinics, externships, and extracurricular activities. The building blocks are there; we just need to switch our mindset from one that favors options to one that focuses on paths. We also have to be willing to articulate these paths and measure success rates. If we create successful paths with demonstrated results, and share that information honestly with prospective students, I think that applicants will respond.

If you’re tempted to resist specialization, consider this: Document review requires no specialized education–any law school graduate can do it. Don’t you want something better for your graduates?

Blend Education and Employment

Government agencies, mid-sized law firms, small firms, and businesses hire most of our graduates. These employers care about people skills, personal qualities, and hands-on experience. They want new employees who already possess those skills and experience; better yet, they like to hire graduates who have already worked for them as summer clerks, part-time employees, or externs.

It’s a buyer’s market, so there’s no point arguing with employers about these preferences. The preferences make sense from the employer’s perspective, and they carry pedagogic weight as well. Some of the best learning occurs when students can combine classroom and workplace experiences.

Law schools already encourage students to work during the summer, permit upper-level students to work part-time during the school year, and field an impressive number of externship programs. We can build on that base to create more dynamic programs that blend education and employment in more central ways.

In part, this requires a simple attitude shift. Rather than treating externships and part-time jobs as necessary evils that compete for classroom time, we should embrace these experiences as positive additions to our students’ learning. We should take those workplace demands into account when scheduling classes. We should also consider charging by the credit hour, rather than the semester, so that students can integrate classroom and workplace experiences year-round without paying extra for summer classes or a seventh semester.

Most important, our faculties should engage with the organizations that employ our students. What do our students do for those agencies, firms, or businesses? How does that work fit with their classroom experiences? Are there doctrinal principles or skills that the employers would really like to see taught on campus? Are there experiences they would be willing to offer that would complement classroom work?

Too often, we draw a line between campus and the workplace, announcing that we will teach up to the line while employers provide everything else. Why not negotiate the line? Or work together during the students’ three years to create the best overall learning experience?

Blended learning fits well with my first recommendation, the creation of professional paths. A student who wants to become a commercial real estate lawyer should not have to figure out the right assortment of classes, internships, and jobs; she should be able to rely on the cooperative discussion of professors and lawyers in the field.

Create an Undergraduate Major in Law

I’ve written before about the benefits of creating an undergraduate law major. In addition to those benefits, an undergraduate law major would allow legal education to retain the “option maximizer” aura that JD programs used to enjoy. BA’s with a law major could pursue the jobs open to other liberal arts graduates, as well as some of the “JD Advantage” jobs. These graduates could also, of course, choose to attend law school. A law major encompassing half of our current JD training wouldn’t allow graduates to “do anything,” but it would open numerous doors in the entry-level, post-college job market.

Under this framework, JD programs would offer two years of more advanced training. Those programs would lend themselves well to the specializations and blended classroom/workplace learning described above. Taken together, a BA+JD program would strike the right balance between options and specialization.

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Support for Layered Legal Education

November 29th, 2013 / By

Since writing about multi-tiered legal education, including an undergraduate component, I have discovered several other scholars and practice experts with similar ideas. Here is a round up of proposals related to “layered” legal education with an undergraduate component. Please add to the collection by sending links to similar proposals.

Jordan Furlong’s BA plus MLP

Jordan Furlong, an internationally recognized expert on innovations in the legal market, proposed a BA/MA structure for legal education in 2010. As Jordan recognized, current JD programs do not effectively teach either professional skills or theoretical inquiry at the graduate level. Today’s law school offers a second bachelor’s degree masquerading as a professional or graduate degree.

Jordan, like me, proposes that we move much of the current JD program into the college curriculum: “Four years of undergraduate work would be enough to provide a healthy grounding in legal theory, legal history, aspects of justice, all the things that law schools now teach, in a mixture with Torts and Contracts and Business Associations and so forth.” Jordan also notes the positive impact of these courses for a wide range of students: “[A] a four-year Law undergrad would be a terrific grounding for any number of disciplines — don’t we always tell law students that a law degree opens up vast new career horizons to them? Better yet, students in other fields could minor in Law, or even take a handful of law electives. Think of the boost that would give to legal literacy among university graduates of all kinds, and to public legal education as a result.”

To prepare practicing lawyers, Jordan would establish “an MLP degree, a Masters of Legal Practice to mirror the Masters of Business Administration.” The master’s would build on the undergraduate degree, which would already have grounded students in “the theory and the basics.” The MLP would then “add business skills, professional responsibility training, client focus, project management, and the other hallmarks of a competent practitioner.” Sounds like a plan. (Jordan also notes the possibility of local bar associations creating training programs, perhaps jointly with private firms. That’s another excellent idea worth pursuing.)

Benjamin Barros’s Competency Exams

Benjamin Barros, Professor and Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development at Widener Law School’s Harrisburg campus, has proposed a different mechanism for moving part of the JD curriculum to the undergraduate level. Rather than create a specific undergraduate major, Benjamin would allow prospective students to take competency exams in law school subjects. If a student achieved a sufficiently high score, the student would receive credit for the corresponding law school course.

As Benjamin notes, these exams would function much like Advanced Placement exams do at the college level. As with AP exams, Benjamin would allow students to develop their competency in any way they chose. Colleges, certainly, could offer courses preparing students for law competency exams; law schools might also enter that market. Students could also study on their own or use online courses. Test performance would offer feedback on the efficacy of these methods, while allowing students to choose methods suiting them best.

Benjamin, like Jordan and me, stresses multiple advantages of this system. Students could obtain a JD with less investment of time and money; a common path might include four years of college (including law-related courses) followed by two years of law school. Those law school years, meanwhile, could cover more sophisticated material. The nature of that more advanced material “might vary – it could be more practice oriented, more theory oriented, or remain doctrinal, but on a deeper level.” Whatever the content, JD students would obtain better preparation for their legal careers. College students would also benefit from law-related “AP” courses, even if they chose not to attend law school.

Benjamin first proposed a version of this idea in 2009. The original post, the more recent one, and the comments on both are well worth reading.

McGinnis and Mangas: BA Plus Apprenticeship

John O. McGinnis, a professor at Northwestern Law School, and Russell Mangas, a recent Northwestern grad practicing at Kirkland & Ellis, propose creating an undergraduate law degree that would include about 60 hours of legal study and 60 hours of general liberal arts courses. Like the other proposals discussed here, their approach would move traditional law school courses (including the first year) to the college curriculum.

McGinnis and Mangas would then require practicing lawyers to complete a year-long paid apprenticeship and pass the bar exam before qualifying for bar admission. Lawyers, therefore, could qualify for law practice after paying for just four years of education. They would devote a fifth year to qualifying, but receive income (rather than paying tuition) for that work.

McGinnis and Mangas, notably, would not eliminate current JD programs; they would maintain those programs alongside the new BA/apprenticeship track. Market choices by employers, clients, and students would determine the popularity of the two tracks.

McGinnis and Mangas, like others proposing layered legal education, note the financial advantages of their proposal. Students could qualify as lawyers with just five years of opportunity cost, four years of college tuition, and a paid apprenticeship. Even if apprenticeships paid low wages, new lawyers would carry much less debt than they do today–and might possess more professional skills.

Writing an article, rather than a blog post, McGinnis and Mangas develop the economic argument more fully. In particular, they contend that alternative educational paths would benefit consumers as well as new lawyers. A less expensive educational path should reduce the price of legal services; it might also enable services for markets that are currently underserved. The full McGinnis/Mangas article deserves a read.

The Kahn Plan

Douglas Kahn, of the University of Michigan Law School, advocates the boldest move toward the undergraduate curriculum. Kahn advocates moving the full three years of legal study to the undergraduate curriculum. Under his plan, students would begin law school after a freshman year of college. The law school curriculum would remain largely as it is today, but students would begin that study three years earlier.

Anticipating cries that his plan would sharply curtail liberal arts education, Kahn notes that law schools offer a good deal of that education within their three-year curricula. Most JD programs also allow students to take some courses from other disciplines, so students could assemble a well rounded education within the confines of a college degree that includes a JD.

Kahn does not advocate the addition of graduate education or apprenticeshps; he would allow students to qualify for the bar exam and law practice after just four years of higher education. His proposal thus moves more aggressively than any of the others discussed here, including my “four plus two” plan. Even if Kahn’s idea proves too radical for a consensus, he firmly supports the feasibility of beginning legal study during the college years.

A Plausible Path?

Each of these plans differs somewhat from the others, but all share a belief that we should begin legal education in college. Although constructing that path would require changes in state bar admission and ABA accreditation rules, these are changes well worth considering. I will continue to post on the practicalities, benefits, and costs of undergraduate “law school” courses and layered legal education.

Meanwhile, please forward links to other authors discussing these issues.

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Committing to Law

November 19th, 2013 / By

I have proposed dividing legal education into an undergraduate major (which would include the 1L year plus one semester of electives) complemented by a two-year JD (which would focus on advanced doctrinal courses and clinical work). One practical question about this proposal is: What happens to students who pursue a non-law major in college but later decide that they want to practice law? There are several answers to this important question.

Complex Professions Require Extended Education

First, we should be realistic about the education that professional work requires. Professionals in other complex fields begin their preparation as early as middle school. Future doctors and engineers, for example, push ahead in the secondary math/science curriculum. In college, they take courses required for their major (engineering) or admission to medical school. No one doubts that these fields require extensive education acquired over numerous years.

The same is true of most academic fields outside of law. Respected graduate programs in history, philosophy, and other fields do not admit applicants who lack undergraduate preparation in those subjects. Programs sometimes admit students who majored in a different field, but those applicants must demonstrate other coursework that prepared them for graduate work in the subject. In addition to field-specific coursework, many graduate programs in the humanities require language proficiency; those in the social sciences may require languages, quantitative skills, or relevant research experience. A college senior who majored in classics can’t suddenly decide to pursue a PhD in psychology; nor can the psychology major abruptly switch to doctoral work in classics.

Law is one of the few post-baccalaureate programs that admits students without specifying any prerequisites other than a BA. This in itself should suggest that our initial coursework is designed for undergraduate majors rather than college graduates. The first year and a half of law school is introductory legal education that could–and should–be completed in college.

At the same time, our degree structure leaves too little time to prepare graduates for the complex work that genuinely requires a law license. Document review is not complex; a college graduate with a law major could perform that work. Prosecuting crimes, representing criminal defendants, arranging international real estate deals, or helping healthcare clients restructure operations to comply with the latest healthcare regulations is complex. Entry-level lawyers need more preparation–primarily in people, business, and clinical skills–to begin work in these fields.

Creating a law major recognizes that law is a complex field–just like medicine, engineering, philosophy, history, psychology, and other professions.

Career Changers

But what about the engineer who wants to become a lawyer? Or the historian who fails to find a tenure-track position and hopes to pursue law as a fallback? Or the well meaning student who did well in college but couldn’t quite decide on a path? How would any of those graduates find their way into the legal profession if they failed to major in law as college students?

There are many potential roads for these students, just as routes exist for college graduates who lack necessary preparation for medicine, engineering, and other fields. Some career-changers enroll as post-graduate or continuing education students to complete undergraduate coursework needed for their new path. Some universities have created special programs for these students. Johns Hopkins, for example, offers a “post-baccalaureate premedical” program that allows college graduates to take the coursework they need for medical school.

Graduates who want to pursue a PhD unrelated to their college major, similarly, may complete a Master’s degree in the field before gaining admission to a doctoral program. Others may gain conditional admission to the doctoral program, promising to complete necessary undergraduate courses during their first year in the program. These students don’t receive credit toward the PhD for those preparatory courses, but they are able to enroll in the courses and complete them.

Law schools could adopt options like these to accommodate college graduates who decide to pursue a legal degree without completing the necessary college courses. Those graduates probably could complete the 45 credits of an undergraduate major in a post-BA program encompassing a full calendar year. Alternatively, they could complete the work in a part-time program stretching over two or more years. Law schools undoubtedly could devise a variety of programs to accommodate these students, just as we have created special LLM programs for increasingly diverse audiences. I wager that the new programs would be more popular than many of the current LLM programs for nonlawyers; the proposed programs would give students a solid grounding in law and qualify them to move on to the JD.

With the degree structure I propose, even a career changer could qualify for a law license after just 3-1/2 academic years: 1-1/2 years to replace the pre-law major and 2 years for the JD. If the student paid undergraduate tuition for the first part of that education, she might pay less than she would today for a 3-year JD.

The College Minor

Where there are majors, there are minors. A college minor in law would also answer some concerns about late bloomers and career changers. Students with a possible interest in law might complete 15-20 credits of college work to qualify for a law minor. Those courses would cover roughly the first semester of law school. In addition to offering excellent insights to students pursuing a variety of careers, this coursework would give late-deciders a boost if they later chose to pursue a JD. These students would need to make up only 25-30 credits of pre-JD legal study before beginning the 2-year JD. In other words, they would devote 3 post-baccalaureate years to obtaining a JD, just as students do today.

The Other Side of the Coin

Dividing legal education into a college major and a 2-year professional degree need not deter career changers from entering law. Equally important, the shift would give many more students an opportunity to explore legal education and decide whether that path is right for them.

Plenty of college students change their majors or convert an intended major into a minor. Some students who begin a law major in college will decide that they prefer philosophy, accounting, chemistry, or other fields. More power to them! It is better for these students to recognize their talents and preferences in college, rather than after investing in an expensive professional degree.

Conversely, college students with little knowledge of law practice may learn about law from their roommates and other friends. If law intrigues these students, they will have a low-cost opportunity to explore the field. Some will decide that law is not for them; others will decide to apply a law BA to a business or compliance career; still others will pursue a JD and practice law.

Summer work and internships during college will help these students decide whether law is the right career for them. Today’s colleges offer many opportunities for this work. A college student who has combined legal coursework with an internship or summer job will have a better basis than today’s students do for deciding whether to pursue graduate legal study.

The BA in law, finally, creates an option that students may exercise at any time. Some law majors may proceed directly to law school. Others may opt for jobs unrelated to law. Still others will pursue positions in compliance, human relations, legal process work, and other law-related fields that do not require a law license. After experience in those fields, some graduates may continue that work, seeking opportunities for advancement within their chosen area. Others may decide to obtain a JD, becoming licensed lawyers. Still others may pursue a graduate degree in another field such as business, computer science, or health policy. Those graduates may determine that their foundational coursework in law, combined with graduate study in another field, gives them the best career prospects.

More Choices

The bottom line is that a law major, combined with a more focused JD program, will give students more choices rather than fewer ones. Creating those choices is consistent with our new economy, which requires flexibility and adaptation.

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Four Plus Two

November 17th, 2013 / By

Practitioners and professors continue to explore new paths for legal education. Based on both pedagogy and market needs, I recommend this approach:

1. Move the first 1-1/2 years of law school into the undergraduate curriculum, creating a law major. Students who complete this curriculum will not be eligible to practice law, but they will benefit from a liberal arts education with a focus on thinking like a lawyer. These graduates will be able to apply their legal knowledge and critical thinking to business, public affairs, compliance, and a host of other careers. They will also be qualified to perform document review and other routine legal tasks that some JDs currently undertake.

2. Create a 2-year JD that builds upon the undergraduate degree and prepares graduates for law practice. Like other graduate departments, these programs will enroll fewer students than the undergraduate major. They will include substantial clinical and experiential work, as well as classes focused on advanced doctrinal and policy issues. Most students in these degree programs will focus on a particular field of law, although general practice will remain one of those options.

Here, briefly, are my rationales for this proposal. I hope to explore my reasoning at greater length in future posts.

Too Much Legal Education for Some

Our current JD curriculum offers too much education for many law-related workers. Compliance managers, human resource officers, and many other contemporary employees apply legal principles without ever attending law school. Most of these workers have only a bachelor’s degree. Some obtain certification from national organizations, and some earn a master’s degree in a field related to their compliance work. Very few, however, enroll in law school. Even one-year LLM programs have failed to attract a large number of these workers.

The hard truth is that these workers don’t need law school to learn how to interpret and apply legal principles. A strong liberal arts education–one that develops critical thinking and communication skills–is sufficient. These workers, in fact, often benefit from training in other fields such as finance, accounting, environmental science, chemistry, or biology. The “law” of environmental compliance is easier to understand than the biochemistry of that work.

The most sensible way for law schools to tap this flow of workers, which is growing steadily, is to enroll them in undergraduate programs. We shouldn’t, however, underestimate these students by teaching them dumbed-down versions of environmental law. Instead, offer future compliance managers our 1L curriculum–complete with development of critical thinking skills–followed by courses in environmental law, tax, securities, or other areas relevant to their interests.

Seven years of higher education is also too many for law graduates who perform document review and other routine legal tasks. Employers currently require a JD for this work, but that’s because they have no other option for workers with basic law skills. If we offered the first 1-1/2 years of law school as a college major, those classes would produce excellent document reviewers, contract managers, and other workers exercising routine legal skills. Once again, the undergraduate work that I envision would encompass all of the analytical skills we teach during the first year of law school, as well as the basic doctrine taught during that year.

Too Little Legal Education for Others

While our BA+JD system offers too much education for some law-related jobs, the combination offers too little for others. Most law graduates lack the specialized knowledge and clinical skills that employers now demand in new lawyers. As market forces have shifted routine legal work to non-lawyers, computers, and overseas workers, employers seek new lawyers who are ready to tackle more sophisticated tasks. The traditional JD curriculum does not serve those needs.

So far, law schools and employers have responded to this challenge by lengthening the training path for new lawyers. Some JDs are obtaining LLMs in specialized fields. Others are completing fellowships or low-paid apprenticeships to gather the experience they need for a full-fledged legal position.

A better answer would be to reduce the duplicate liberal arts education that these graduates receive in college and law school. Law school, for better or worse, adopts a liberal arts perspective. We educate students as generalists, not specialists. We stress critical reading, analysis, and writing, rather than narrow “technical” skills. We engage students in policy issues to prepare them for good citizenship and dynamic leadership. It’s hard to find a better “liberal arts education” than the first two years of law school.

Why, however, do we force future lawyers to take two doses of that liberal arts education, one in college and one in law school? Shouldn’t four years of a liberal arts education be enough? If students could major in law during college, they could develop critical thinking and communication skills in the context of legal materials. If they decided to become lawyers, they could then progress to a graduate program focused on more advanced doctrine, theory, and clinical practice.

If we moved the first 1-1/2 years of law school into the undergraduate curriculum, we could build a 2-year JD with more advanced offerings than we currently provide. Lawyers would devote only six years to higher education, but would emerge better educated than they are today.

Interdisciplinary Work

If college students are able to major in law, they will devote fewer college credits to history, political science, foreign languages, chemistry, and other subjects. The law major, however, would leave plenty of time for some study in those fields. Even if a law major consumed 45 credits (equivalent to 1-1/2 years of law school), that would leave 75 credits for other college courses–including general education classes and study in a minor field.

Students, moreover, would benefit from contemporaneous study of law and other subjects. Law students often struggle to apply college coursework to their law school classes. A freshman course in statistics seems very distant to a second-year law student; so does a sophomore class on economics or psychology. My proposal would allow students to combine legal study with work in other disciplines throughout a full six years of higher education. Integrating legal study with other work would foster more genuinely interdisciplinary understanding.

College and law graduates, finally, would have time to pursue other subjects if they chose to do so. My proposal would save lawyers a year of higher education. Students could use that time and tuition to complement their coursework with education in any other field.

Layered Law

For more than fifty years, lawyers have defended a unified profession and general degree. We have resisted efforts to create specialized law degrees or limited-purpose licenses. In part, we have feared the unappetizing specter of legal services divided along economic lines. Dividing the profession, we worried, might relegate low-income clients to cheaply trained lawyers–while corporations and the wealthy continued to benefit from better educated attorneys.

Note that my proposal does not slice law practice in that manner. I would not allow college graduates to represent either corporations or indigent defendants in court. Both of those tasks would require a law degree. Clients of all types, on the other hand, might benefit from some law-related work performed by college graduates.

The contemporary legal market has already generated several layers of law-related employment. Compliance managers interpret regulations with the benefit of only a college degree. Paralegals perform a wide variety of law-related tasks, sometimes with only an associate’s degree. Foreign-educated lawyers conduct document review and due diligence. Some JDs work in similarly limited positions.

Restructuring legal education would recognize these shifts, without compromising client interests. On the contrary, clients deserve the cost savings that have been achieved through the streamlining of legal services. At the same time, clients require the insights of highly educated lawyers. Expanding legal education to include both a rigorous college major and an advanced degree will serve all of those ends.

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