It’s basic math time again:
BLS estimate of total employment in the legal sector, June 2011: 1,111,200
BLS estimate of total employment in the legal sector, June 2012: 1,119,700
Total increase in employment in the legal sector, year to year: 8,500
BLS estimate of percentage of employees in legal sector who are attorneys: 65.8%
65.6% of 8,500 = 5,593 (This assumes perhaps optimistically that the growth in the legal sector was not disproportionately among support personnel rather than attorneys).
BLS current estimate of annual outflow from the legal profession: 13,840
13,840 + 5,593 = 19,433.
Total 2011 graduates of ABA law schools reported to have full-time long-term employment requiring bar admission in February 2012: About 22,632.
Close enough for government work? Maybe, especially when you consider that the latter figure is pumped up by a couple of thousand fake law school-funded jobs, many of which were structured to be categorized as full-time long-term employment requiring bar admission. The ABA’s estimate is also inflated by another 1300 or so 2011 grads who listed themselves in solo practices.
It can’t be said enough, so I’m going to say it again: The American legal profession is currently generating about 20,000 new jobs for lawyers each year. Roughly two-thirds of these are products of outflow from the profession, while the rest represent actual growth. ABA-accredited schools are graduating about 44,000-45,000 people per year (about 93% of whom have a known employment status), and non-ABA schools, mainly but not exclusively in California, are graduating about another 8,000 annually. This means ABA schools are graduating roughly 2.2 graduates per year for every available legal job, and of course not all such jobs will go to new ABA graduates.
The average educational debt upon graduation of the 90% of people currently enrolled in law school who have educational debt is going to be about $150,000. The average interest on that debt is going to be about 7.4%. This will require monthly payments of $1,774 for ten years or $1,100 for twenty-five years to service at the contractual rate.
The majority of current law school graduates are not going to have real legal careers, and the majority of the minority who will have legal careers are not going to earn enough money in those careers to service the debt the average law graduate is now incurring.
Despite all this the system remains in place, for the time being, for two reasons:
(a) Because government loans subsidize and amplify predictable cognitive errors, due to optimism and confirmation biases, committed by law students who continue to enter a system that will produce, on average, a sharply negative return for those who enter it.
(b) Because self-interest, institutional inertia, and regulatory capture ensure that those who profit from the system will do nothing to alter its basic structure until a combination of economic, political, and social pressure forces them to do so.
That pressure is now building. Those who are in a position to do so can increase that pressure by repeating, as many times as necessary, the basic economic facts underlying what has become an unsustainable system.