Too many Lawyers?

Courtroom Drama: Too Many Lawyers, Too Few Jobs

... the legal job market has slowed dramatically. The U.S. will have a 7.3 percent loss in legal employment for 2013, according to Bright.com, a research group. The greatest loss of jobs will be in insurance defense attorneys, and in areas of employment and commercial real estate.

Going forward, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects nearly 74,000 jobs new lawyer jobs created in the U.S. over the next seven years. The growth is expected in areas including health law, intellectual property law, privacy law, and international law.

But American law schools will graduate about 44,000 students each year during that time, and in doing the math, that means six new lawyers — not including older graduates — will be fighting it out for just one new job.

Pay will also be an issue. The median salary for a new associate at a private law firm is currently about $85,000 a year, according to the BLS. Not bad, but it's down a third what it was just two years ago.

Working for the government, such as a public defender, could pay anywhere from just $40,000 to $85,000 a year, according to the Labor Department, even after years of service.

And most law school grads come out with a student debt usually between $125,000 and $250,000, depending on where they went to school, according to Department of Education statistics. That's on top of their underclass debt which could average the same amount.
Why There Are Too Many Lawyers

Essen­tially, where get­ting a law job right out of law school was nearly a given, now as many as 35% of grad­u­ates don’t have a law-​​related job nine months after grad­u­a­tion.

That’s a pretty high unem­ploy­ment rate, which sug­gests there are indeed too many lawyers in Amer­ica right now. The rea­son is that the reces­sion (and other reg­u­la­tory changes, I would add) has led to fewer merg­ers and acqui­si­tions and other busi­ness activ­i­ties that require exten­sive legal counsel.

Because get­ting a law job is harder, many prospec­tive appli­cants are decid­ing that it doesn’t make sense to take on $150,000-$200,000 in stu­dent loan debt when the job mar­ket is extremely tight. So law school appli­ca­tions are way down, lead­ing schools—including top schools such as Northwestern—to cut back on the num­ber of admissions.
A Message to Aspiring Lawyers: Caveat Emptor - Number of new jobs annually: 21,800. Number of graduates: 44,000.

Nationally there are twice as many graduates as there are jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the economy will provide 21,880 new jobs for lawyers annually between 2010 and 2020; law schools since 2010, however, have produced more than 44,000 graduates each year. Yet schools continue to enroll more students than the market demands and to raise tuition faster than inflation. The result is exploding debt loads for current students and graduates whose employment prospects are appalling.

To be sure, the employment prospects for Americans across a broad swath of society have been grim in recent years. But the legal profession has clearly lost any reputation it might have once had as a safe, prosperous haven in troubled times.

I graduated in 2011 and am one of the "lucky" ones. Within six months of graduation I secured a job in my area of interest, international human rights. My class entered the worst American job market in 18 years—only 56.7% of law graduates found full-time jobs lasting at least a year and requiring passage of a bar exam.

For many new hires, even finding a job with a law firm might not be quite the cause for celebration it once was. According to the American Bar Association, the average amount borrowed by students attending private law schools has gone up 78% in the past decade, to $124,950 in 2011 from $70,147 in 2002. However, these loan figures don't reflect the true burden. With the average interest rate on federal loans for graduate students at 8%, which starts to accrue while the student is still in school, the typical law graduate often holds debt in excess of $150,000 by the time repayment begins.

Making matters worse: Salaries have plummeted, with the mean private-practice compensation today, $78,653, falling 16% from where it was in 2009 ($93,454), and 8% from 2002 ($85,518). The dramatic increase in law-school tuition—which has increased 434.8% at private schools since 1985—coupled with the decrease in jobs and salaries prompted James G. Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement, to describe the current entry-level job market as "the weakest . . . that NALP has measured in nearly 40 years of doing this work."
Comment: Contrarian views:

Too many lawyers? Says who?

Moreover, the career for which we educate students, done through the medium of the law, is a career in leadership and creative problem solving.
There Are Not Too Many Lawyers

Lawyers are by genus problem-solvers. By species, they may be traffic ticket-resolvers, child custody-facilitators, triangular merger-structurers, or business dispute-mediators. Indeed, it's likely that you, or someone very close to you, could recently have benefited from skilled assistance in one of these matters. There are not too many problem-solvers.

Law schools provide their graduates with incredibly valuable skill and knowledge sets. In the first four months of most programs, law students master the components of an enforceable contract, learn the elements of and remedies for negligent behavior, become versed in the myriad ownership interests in real and personal property, sort through the distinction between accomplices and accessories to criminal acts, and are trained to research and provide written guidance on any possible variation on these themes. There are not too many individuals with a deep working knowledge of our legal system.
Comment: My own view is that there are too many. Mundane legal work can be accomplished via websites like LegalZoom. And problem-solving and leadership can be acquired by other disciplines and opportunities.


  1. Somehow I'm reminded of my own profession here. We tried to legislate jobs for ourselves via government in areas like NASA and defense contracting, are by nature problem solvers, and then we're surprised that when goverment stops working well, we're out of work.

    It's also worth noting that the kind of problem-solving Foster and the Salon piece talk about used to be the province of the liberal arts grad. So we now take the first 3-4 years of their best thinking for law school and give 'em $150k more in debt (or less in savings and (bonus of bonuses!) no job.

    I wonder if there's a smart lawyer or engineer somewhere out there who can figure a way out of this.....

  2. Relevant: Wells Fargo trimming outside legal expenses: general counsel

    Wells Fargo & Co is looking to spend less money on outside lawyers as part of a companywide cost-cutting initiative, the bank's general counsel said on Thursday.

    The No. 4 U.S. bank by assets began reviewing these expenses about nine months ago and plans to start implementing changes in the next quarter or so, Jim Strother said in remarks at a University of North Carolina law school conference in Charlotte, North Carolina.

    "We do expect to have a meaningful reduction in outside counsel expense," Strother told Reuters after the speech, declining to provide details.

    Wells' focus on legal expenses is the latest example of banks tightening their belts at a time when low interest rates and new regulations are making it more difficult to increase revenue.

    The bank will likely increase internal staff to handle a litigation workload that has mushroomed in the wake of the financial crisis, Strother said. The legal department currently has more than 800 people, including 390 lawyers, he said.

    1. I graduated from a "3rd tier law school" in 1996. I had around 45,000 in Debt and I thought that was super high.
      It took me over a year to find a job in the legal profession and it was as an Assistant Public Defender. I was "laid off" because in my state PD's can make up to 120,000 a year and the salary increases each year post bar passage. Due to state budget cut backs rural Public Defender's Offices rarely need more than one person with many years of experience due to the fact that they are expensive. Our office had three. And contrary to popular misconception government jobs in law are great. No cost for advertising, no cost for Legal Assistant help. Paid for mileage. And dozens of other benefits with the main one being a 40 to 50 hour work week.
      My advice to any one graduating law school is to do anything you can to get a government job and make your self irreplaceable. For small to medium private practice is a brutal world of clamoring for clients. It's really not a pretty picture.


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