Saturday, September 8, 2012

How many jobs?

I posted earlier this week about the Bureau of Labor Statistics' sobering job projections for lawyers. You can find those posts here and here. Let's look now at the employment situation from the other side: The jobs actually found by graduating JDs in recent years.

NALP gathers information each year about the jobs law graduates take. The statistics are woefully inadequate with respect to salaries, but they offer a fairly good snapshot of jobs actually taken. LawProf has been over much of this ground before, but I thought it was worth revisiting in light of the BLS projections and other pessimistic news about the labor market. During the last 10 years, here are the number of law graduates from NALP-member schools who found jobs requiring bar admission by nine months after graduation:



Year
Jobs Requiring
Bar Admission
2002
26,564
2003
26,387
2004
26,939
2005
28,932
2006
30,273
2007
31,086
2008
30,334
2009
28,901
2010
28,167
2011
27,224

The number of lawyer jobs that JDs found within nine months of graduation, it seems to me, is a pretty good measure of the number of jobs available to them. There seems to be no crisis of entry-level legal jobs searching desperately for workers; even the unpaid "work experiences" have takers.

The table shows that the number of lawyer openings--those in jobs requiring bar admission--dipped slightly in 2003 after the last recession. The numbers then increased modestly each year through 2007. These were not dramatic gains: The gain from 2003 through 2004 was only 2.1%. The following year, 2005, displayed the highest percentage gain in openings: There were 7.4% more openings for entry-level lawyers that year than the year before. Growth fell in 2006 to 4.6%; and in 2007, to 2.7%. 2007 represented the high-water mark for entry-level openings, but growth in the market had already slowed.

After 2007, the figures are stark: The number of JDs obtaining bar-admission-required jobs drops each year. The number of entry-level openings for lawyers, in other words, has been declining steadily for the last four years--despite the end of the recession, despite the economic stimulus, despite the best efforts of law schools.

But, as usual, the news gets worse--for at least three reasons.

First, at the same time that the number of "bar admission" jobs has been declining, the number of part-time jobs in that category has been increasing. In 2007, only 793 of the 31,086 bar-admission jobs were part time. That's a measly 2.6%. As this table shows, the number of part-time jobs in the bar-admission category has grown each year since 2007.

Year
Jobs Requiring
Bar Admission
Full-Time Bar Admission Jobs
Part-Time Bar Admission Jobs
2007
31,086
29,978
793
2008
30,334
28,890
1,149
2009
28,901
26,625
1,845
2010
28,167
25,654
1,958
2011
27,224
24,902
2,182

By 2011, part-time jobs accounted for 8.0% of the entry-level jobs requiring bar admission. If we look just at full-time jobs requiring bar admission, those have fallen from a high of 29,978 in 2007 to 24,902 in 2011--a drop of 16.9%.

Second, the number of schools providing information to NALP has grown since 2007. Columbia Law School, for example, did not provide job data to NALP until 2010. The NALP statistics for 2007-2009, therefore, lack any jobs secured by Columbia graduates--as well as jobs secured by other schools that did not participate in NALP at the time. The figures for 2007-2009, therefore, understate the number of jobs obtained by JD graduates in those years.

Today, every ABA-accredited school belongs to NALP. With increased public focus on the job market, moreover, schools have become extra vigilant in tracking all of their graduates. The jobs reported for 2011, therefore, almost certainly offer a more complete tally of lawyering jobs than those for 2007. The addition of Columbia and a few other schools to NALP, along with more diligent reporting, masks part of the job decline from 2007 through 2011: If reporting had been as full in 2007 as it was in 2011, the 2007 peak would have been higher and the percentage decline greater.

Finally, the above figures do not reflect the changing nature of bar-admission-required jobs. We know that more of these jobs are with small firms than large ones. We also know that firms have expanded their use of staff attorneys, contract attorneys, and document reviewers--some at back office facilities in low-cost cities. I'll explore those trends further in another post. For now, note that all of these jobs require bar admission, and count in the numbers given above.

Bottom Line: The number of entry-level job openings for lawyers (i.e., positions that require bar admission) has been declining for the last four years, with a reduction of at least 16.9% since 2007. The nature of those jobs has also shifted, with more becoming part-time, limited term, and/or with restricted advancement opportunities. This is a job market undergoing profoundly negative change.

If there is any hope of weathering this storm, law schools have to look out the window and see the rain. It's time for law schools to face up to the facts of the legal job market; we're already several years behind. Denial has harmed our recent graduates and current students. It is also robbing us of any chance to find paths out of the storm. I don't know if those paths exist--or how helpful they might be--but we surely won't find them by issuing temporary umbrellas to our graduates or waiting for the front to pass on its own.

Note: A few commenters have asked whether I am circulating these statistics to other audiences. I am--and hope to do more of that. I plan to combine these posts into a brief report aimed at law professors, pre-law advisors, and others. Or maybe LawProf and I can collaborate on a series of reports. Meanwhile, the ongoing feedback here is very helpful (not to mention engaging!). Thanks for all of that, djm

52 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Why does this have to be here everyday? Do you get "First!!!!!" points or something? Or perhaps a paying job after 10 Firsts?

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    2. I agree. Grow up, people.

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    3. The gunners don't have jobs either.

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    4. It has to be Leiter.

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  2. Probably not PosnerSeptember 8, 2012 at 2:42 PM

    I've been reading up on ways that people with law degrees have historically leveraged their JD into satisfying, non-legal careers. One thing sticks out about many of the high-paying, non-legal positions that JDs eventually found: they were able to get those jobs because they first got a BigLaw job that enabled them to make connections.

    It seems that it is often not the JD alone that allows the JD to be versatile; it is rather the combination of JD plus BigLaw or some other credential or connection. That is why I find the increasing number of grads with 200K in debt and only temp or part-time jobs particularly disturbing. You can't easily leverage a JD plus a temp job into a well-paying non-legal career. Your first job matters.

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    1. Probably not PosnerSeptember 8, 2012 at 2:53 PM

      Additional comment:

      A number of JDs in the past also ended up as business entrepreneurs rather than in legal careers. Indeed, being an entrepreneur is often floated as something unemployed JDs should consider in these comments. But I'm curious as to how successful a new graduate with avg debt would be at securing the financing to start up a business. I'm guessing not very, unless you can borrow from your parents :) But I'd be interested if those in the community have any experience attempting to secure financing as a new grad.

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    2. How about JD plus Daddy's golfing buddies?

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    3. Or JD plus hottie?

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    4. JD Painterguy apparently leveraged his JD from Touro into a successful house painting business. I guess that is why he looks down on the people who work the oil fields of North Dakota.

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  4. I do not believe those numbers for a second. Nope. Bogus.

    What would be enlightening would be a description of the process of gathering these numbers. Where do the numbers come from? How are the law schools involved in this process?

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    1. Try doing your own research since it "would be enlightening".

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  5. Need another column for the total number of graduates each year. We could do a little math (don't worry--only a simple addition and subtraction) to see how many students are shut out of practicing law.

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    1. How many students don't get into the profession is less important to me than which students.

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    2. I agree that this would be useful. I left that info out of this post, because things were getting too long. But I've added a new post with that information.

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  6. ...and don't forget what many have stated here before... as bad as these numbers are, and they are bad, with each year that passes, fewer and fewer of these graduates who obtained a first job that requires bar admission will be working in a job that requires bar admission.

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  7. Well, these numbers aren't so horrible, really. I mean, we have the worst recession since the Great Depression, and the jobs in law only get cut by 16%? And that's against the PEAK, not a ten-year running average! I haven't hired anyone since the commercial RE side of my practice collapsed in my small southern town, but really, people-keep calm and carry on.
    Obviously, I do think we all agree that the crappiest 50 or 100 schools should be shuttered, probably by introducing standards for schools whose students get federally-g'teed loans (standards like reasonable accreditation). A William and Mary grad will work for me for $20K a year more than I would have to pay a Richmond grad. So why would I ever hire the Richmond grad, given that I can charge clients an extra $25/hr. for the W&M grad, which more than makes up the difference. I suppose YMMV.

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    1. I meant "standards like reasonable placement" in my parenthetical.
      And my not hiring refers to since 2008.

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    2. I won't shed crocodiles tears for JD Painter and other people who graduate at the bottom of the class from the Bumblefuck U School of Law and Underwater Basket-Weaving. But there are people at the top of their class at schools more highly regarded than William and Mary who cannot get jobs. It's not just the D– poster boy from Bumblefuck who is being iced out of the profession.

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    3. True. And that seems puzzling considering the decline is only c. 16%. Perhaps there hasn't been adjustment yet? I.e. small town guys like me don't yet fully realize we really COULD snag a UMich, UVA, or even UPennState-Philly grad??

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    4. Probably you don't think of seeking them and they don't think of seeking you. If you advertised at Michigan or wherever, you'd probably get expressions of interest. Just don't make your advertisement visible beyond the targeted university, or you'll end up with letters that begin "I is applyin fer that thar job that youze announced. I wants to assure youze that my 1.7 from Touro ain't no worse than no 3.5 from Michigan."

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    5. I agree that it is puzzling that we are seeing people at places like UMich or UVa effectively unemployed if the jobs only fell 16%. What these numbers perhaps don't show is the decline in the quality of jobs.

      For example, in 2009, UMich placed 215 people in firms with 501+ attorneys; in 2010 that number dropped to 129 (info from website). In other words, placements in BigLaw have been hammered.

      The interesting question is why these t10 students aren't being picked up in smaller markets. Are the students not applying to these markets? Do local practitioners prefer to hire from their regional school over t10 schools?

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    6. Students there probably don't even think of applying to a firm in some distant small town. And if they do apply, they'll probably seem suspect. "Why is this top student from the U of Michigan applying to my little firm in Smalltown, Virginia? She must have a skeleton in her closet."

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    7. You are missing a very important point. Big law is the only job that makes it possible to justify law school cost ( at least in my opinion, for most people).

      Many big law firms remain well below - even 100 people or so- lower than they were before the recession. At the same time, the other jobs that might make law school worth it financially for public interest attorneys, jobs that qualify for forgiveness after 10 years, have become even more impossible to find.

      The number of summer associates at 500+ firms nationwide was under 3000- about 2800 a cording to NALP.

      The jobs that could theoretically make law school not a complete financial disaster have been greatly reduced.

      On top of that, many firms are laying off junior associates through stealth layoffs . White and case has fired first year associates. They are not alone. So even of you think you have won law school, you can easily be kicked out on your ass.

      The almost impossibility of getting jobs is so hard for 0Ls to accept. They think that getting a job is like getting into school- if you have the credentials you should get a job. This is not how hiring works. Many kids with great credentials can strike out because they are just trying too hard to get a job or for whatever reason a firm dings them.

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    8. Probably not PosnerSeptember 8, 2012 at 5:49 PM

      Another point about the NALP stats: what kind of job counts as "full-time?" I assume they are counting things like one-year state clerkships and one-year public interest fellowships paid for by law schools, both of which are temporary?

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    9. Indeed, law school financed primarily with debt no longer makes sense—except at a handful of very prestigious schools, and even those should not be rushed into blindly. And if Harvard at full price is a questionable proposition, Bumblefuck at a similar price should not even be considered.

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    10. 5:41: Good point. Students might not apply to smaller markets because they can't afford to take those jobs, and thus they keep trying for something else.

      I've heard rumors of students turning down job offers that were low-paying or lacking in prestige in favor of a school funded fellowship on the theory that they'd be better off working for a prestigious public interest group on the school's dime and then trying again for a better job.

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    11. This is a good point. School hiring of significant numbers of students masks a part of the drop in hiring. I be the drop, if all schools had been reporting to NALP is way over 17% ( not sure why the above poster dropped it down to16%)

      For an interesting look at unemployment from the top 14 schools, look at the spreadsheet and graph prepared by a poster on TLS.
      The thread is called detailed class of 2011 UN-employment data. Once again, I can't post the link from my phone. I will post from a computer tomorrow.

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    12. Good point about the law-school funded jobs. These numbers do include some of those--the ones that require bar admission. Grads doing research for professors or working in the law school's administrative offices should be coded "JD advantage." But grads working in law offices with law school funding would count as "bar required."

      But a 17% drop in job openings is huge--especially when you consider that only three-quarters of law grads got "bar admission required" jobs even during the good years (see the next post).

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    13. http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=181723

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  8. For $ome rea$on, sewers such as Indiana Institute of Technology still want to open law schools - even though the lawyer job market is QUICKLY SHRINKING. It's as if the pigs do not give one single, solitary droplet of waste about the students.

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    1. Federal loan g'tees plus optimistic-biased student applicant lemmings plus suitable lawyers desperate enough to get out of BigLaw to serve as professors = shooting fish in a barrel. The real puzzle is why the $100 bill is still sitting on the sidewalk for Indiana IT to pick up!

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    2. Indiana Institute of Technology?! Hell, I just have to go and look at this.

      The Web site calls it "A New Kind of Law School", but its mission (http://www.indianatech.edu/Academics/law/Pages/mission.aspx) mentions nothing new at all.

      They expect their first class to have a median LSAT score of 156 and a median undergraduate GPA of 3.5. Tuition will be $29,500.

      I don't think that they'll get a median LSAT score of 156 unless they, like Cooley and friends, buy scads of people with full scholarships.

      And they boast that someone has endowed a scholarship with $20,000. That endowment can support a perpetual scholarship worth approximately $1000 per year. Big deal.

      Sorry, but no organization whose name includes "Institute of Technology" should have a law school.

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    3. I think a fundamental problem is that top schools have reputations to maintain, so have to assure some rate of success at placing grads.

      Bottom schools have no reputation, so they have nothing to lose if they can find someone to pay.

      Conclusion: fed gov has to stop allowing loans to be used at these bottom schools.

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    4. As soon as you murmur word one about cutting off student loan access, groups representing every possible minority group will howl and scream about minorities being denied access to the professions.

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    5. 5:26. I agree. Limiting the schools at which loans can be used is going to be really hard politically. Blogs like this need to get out the message that we aren't helping anyone by allowing them to go into debt to attend Indiana Tech. The scam story needs to go mainstream.

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    6. There are ways to address the underrepresentation of minority groups without opening a goddamn hopeless law school at some technical college in Fort Wayne.

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    7. "In the United Nations Human Rights Treaty clinic, law students will be given the opportunity, under the supervision of a full-time faculty member, to write “shadow reports” for non-governmental organizations that act as monitoring committees to document the progress (or lack thereof) of member states that have adopted international treaties."

      Does anyone seriously believe that the graduates of this risible would-be law school will ever be involved in the drafting of international treaties?

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    8. "In the "trial court" clinic, a faculty member will serve as a clearinghouse for the trial judges in Allen County, Indiana, and surrounding counties. The professor will supervise a team of law students who will be “on call” to provide law clerk assistance to the trial judges as needed. In Indiana, not all state court trial judges have full-time law clerks so the availability of a pool of law clerks should permit the local trial bench to examine more conveniently issues of first impression and complex questions of law."

      Wishful thinking. Which judge is going to entrust "complex questions of law" to people stupid enough to matriculate at this shithole?

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    9. 6:20: LOL!

      I sincerely hope that Law Prof addresses the trend of "international law" in the legal academy. It's advertised on brochures, new faculty members are being hired in it, law reviews seem to like it, and as far as I can tell . . . produces very few jobs.

      Are schools pitching international law as a way to attract undergrads? If not, what is motivating this trend?


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    10. "International law" is sexy, like sports law, entertainment law, and other fake "specialties" with just about zero practitioners.

      Glassy-eyed 0Ls fancy themselves flying all over the globe to rub elbows with diplomats, pausing frequently to dally on the Champs-Élysées or on the beaches of Ipanema. Such is the allure of "international law".

      In fact, the hobnobbing and the treaties are left to diplomats, not lawyers—and certainly not to some half-ass kid with a 149 on the LSAT at an upstart law school in Fort Wayne.

      No law school hypes up its program in defending against tickets for drunk driving or settling insurance claims. There's nothing flashy about those specialties. Never mind that they do offer work, unlike "international law" and the rest.

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  9. Excellent post, and it is relevant to note that the law schools have charmingly adjusted to the post-2007 landscape by granting 575 more JDs in 2011(44,495) than they did in 2007(43,920).

    http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/statistics/enrollment_degrees_awarded.authcheckdam.pdf

    So, assuming that all the job openings in the chart went to new grads rather than to experienced lawyers who had stepped out of the legal job market for a few years, the chances of getting a full-time bar-required job in 2011 were 56%, as compared to 68% in 2007. I would say that that represents a fairly significant diminution in the value of a law degree.

    dybbuk

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  10. IT'S SO DAMN SIMPLE, THERE ARE ALMOST EXACTLY TWICE AS MANY LAW SCHOOL AS ARE NECESSARY. IF YOU WANT TO BE SAFE JUST CLOSE DOWN 33% OF THEM, AND THERE WILL BE MORE OR LESS ENOUGH JOBS FOR EVERYONE.

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    1. Yes, "so damn simple" that all you need is the political will and the legal means to make it happen.

      But thanks so much for taking care of the difficult part.

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  11. Just stop all federal guaranteed student loans to all law school. Watch the tuition drop.

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  12. Couple of things:

    (1) Keep in mind that these statistics, dismal as they are, are almost certainly significantly biased toward making the outcomes for new law graduates look better than they are. Law school CSOs are under tremendous pressure to spin the employment outcomes for their graduates in the most favorable way possible, and, given the very loose reporting system, it's highly likely plenty of people who don't have real legal jobs end up getting categorized as if they do. I'll have more to say about this in a post.

    (2) As to why a bunch of people at top ten schools aren't getting legal jobs if hiring overall is down "only" 17% from its 2007 peak, see (1), but also keep in mind that there's no longer anything like a natural entry point into the legal profession for people who don't get a job through the OCI process. I'll also have more to say about this.

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    1. I hope that you will indeed say more about (2). From my angle, it appears that the OCIs are for the children of the wealthy, and that others have little chance. Qualifications take second billing to identity.

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  13. These numbers are actually quite good considering the direction of law school enrollment. If enrollment continues to decline, and these numbers stay the same in 5-10 years there could actually be a shortage of lawyers.

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  14. The comments on this thread have been really good. Could it have anything to do with the attributes of people who opt to spend their Sat night here? Flattered to be counted amongst you all.

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  15. I am curious to hear ideas on alternative areas of reform. My medium sized state has too many law schools. Only 25% of which can be considered nationally renowned. Every single one of our law schools has a bar passage rate in the high 80s or low 90s. I am curious whether others feel the employment situation might be partially remedied by the state bar requiring more extensive examination. By this would propose not only a more difficult bar but also an examination process after the first year of law school. The hope is that 10-20% of the lowest performing students could cut their losses off after the first year of school should they fail to succeed in passing the first year bar exam. The other component, of course, is to have both a bar exam and first year exam that actually reflects legal skills needed to be a lawyer.

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