Sunday, March 13, 2011

BLS Projects a very optimistic 98,500 new jobs for lawyers. In that time I project a very conservative net increase of at least 189,442 new JDs.

In a comment to Friday's post, the author of the Law School Tuition Bubble blog pointed out that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of jobs for lawyers will increase by 98,500 over the ten year period from 2008 to 2018.  (See the "Projections" data.)  Adjusting for lawyer retirements, what is the net increase in the number of lawyers produced over those ten years?

Let's use my standard assumption that a lawyer would want to practice or would end up practicing for 40 years.  (If someone graduated at age 25, he would earn their living working as a lawyer for 40 years before retiring at age 65.)  We have ABA data for the number of JDs produced between 1969 and 1978 (corresponding to JD production 40 years in the future from 2009 to 2018).  The net change in the number of JDs will be the difference between the number of JDs produced between 2009 and 2018 and the number produced from 1969 through 1978.


New JDs
1970 17,477
1971 17,006
1972 22,342
1973 27,756
1974 28,729
1975 29,961
1976 32,597
1977 33,640
1978 33,317

Unfortunately, we don't know how many new JDs will be minted between 2011 and 2018.  The only data I have in those regards is that 44,000 were produced in 2009.  Let's assume that 45,000 new JDs will be produced for each of the 9 years between 2010 and 2018.  (In reality, the number will probably be higher since the ABA continues accrediting new law schools.)

Years Law School

Law School Grads

2009 - 1969 44,000 16,733 27,267
2010 - 1970 45,000 17,477 27,523
2011 - 1971 45,000 17,006 27,994
2012 - 1972 45,000 22,342 22,658
2013 - 1973 45,000 27,756 17,244
2014 - 1974 45,000 28,729 16,271
2015 - 1975 45,000 29,961 15,039
2016 - 1976 45,000 32,597 12,403
2017 - 1977 45,000 33,640 11,360
2018 - 1978 45,000 33,317 11,683


So, for the BLS's projected 98,500 new lawyer jobs, the law schools and the ABA will produce a net increase of 189,442 new lawyers.  Assuming that these optimistic numbers are correct, only 52.0% of all new law school graduates will be able to find lawyer jobs.

I think that projection is very optimistic.  First, it assumes that the number of jobs for lawyers will actually increase.  Last week the ABA reported that the legal profession lost 2900 attorney jobs last month (when jobs in other sectors supposedly increased).  In the meantime legal process outsourcing is shipping lawyer jobs overseas and computers may become capable of basic document review.  Also, our nation's economy will probably continue to suffer from malaise, and as a general rule, less economic activity means fewer business transactions and less work for lawyers.  Moreover, historically the amount of new lawyer production increases over time.  In other words, in reality more than 45,000 new JDs will probably be produced each year while the increase in the number of jobs for lawyers will probably be smaller than 98,500, assuming that it increases at all.  Consequently, I suspect that the percentage of new graduates who are able to find entry-level law jobs will be much closer to the 29.1% and 27.35% figures I calculated previously.

Of course, in response, the ABA will probably continue to accredit new law schools and the law schools will probably continue to increase tuition and keep raking in the bucks.

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