In honor of Labor Day, let's revisit some data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. LawProf has featured these numbers before, but they bear repeating. Why not mark Labor Day by sending this information to law professors and deans you know?
- The BLS estimates that between 2010 and 2020, the United States economy will provide 218,800 job openings for lawyers and judicial law clerks. That's 21,880 openings per year.
- The projected openings include labor force departures, as well as new jobs. The estimate, in other words, accounts for the fact that many baby boomers will leave the workforce this decade; that some parents will relinquish jobs to raise children; and that some practicing lawyers will seek other work.
- The BLS bases its predictions on econometric models, together with continuous monitoring of the workplace. The projection of 21,880 lawyer jobs per year stems from knowledgeable labor economists; scholars should take that estimate seriously.
- BLS bases its projections on normal 10-year business cycles. In doing that, the BLS recognizes that its 2020 projections may overstate job openings. That is because "the severity of the most recent recession and the slowness of recovery to date" signal departures from the norm. 21,880 lawyer jobs per year is an optimistic estimate.
- In 2010, law schools awarded 44,004 JDs; in 2011, the number rose to 44,258; and in 2012, it was 44,495. Three years into the decade, schools have graduated 132,757 JDs--enough to fill 61% of the lawyer jobs available for the full decade.
- The class of 2013 is on track to be even larger: 52,488 first-years began law school in fall 2010. Using the graduation rate displayed by the class of 2012, at least 45,220 of our current 3Ls will claim diplomas by May. That will bring us up to 177,977 new JDs in just four years.
- Law schools cut enrollment for the class of 2014 by about 7%. Some 42,055 students are likely to graduate in 2014, bringing the five-year JD total to 220,132--already more than the 218,800 job openings predicted for the entire decade. And there are still five years to go!
- We don't know enrollment numbers yet for the class of 2015, the group that started law school this fall. Let's assume that schools cut another 13% off their peak, producing a class 20% smaller than the class of 2013. That would add just 36,176 more JDs to the workforce in 2015.
- How many students will law schools enroll for the classes of 2016-2019? Many will strive to enroll more than they did for the class of 2015; a 20% drop in tuition revenue is hard to stomach. But let's assume, conservatively, that overall graduation rates remain steady at 36,176 per year through 2019.
- Even at that rate, law schools will finish the decade by graduating a total of 401,012 JDs in the classes of 2010 through 2019. That's 182,212 graduates more than the number of jobs available. And that estimate is quite conservative. It assumes that law schools will maintain greatly reduced class sizes through 2019. It also assumes that no pre-2010 graduate will enter the legal market from unemployment or another occupation.
This is an expensive, high-stakes game of musical chairs. What are more than 180,000 law school graduates going to do with their JDs if they can't practice law? How are they going to pay off the JD-sized debts they carry? More about that, as well as lawyer salaries, soon.
Update: LawProf reminded me about two types of lawyers omitted from these calculations: JD graduates of unaccredited schools and foreign-trained lawyers who pass U.S. bar exams. The National Conference of Bar Examiners has some data on these groups. If you check page 11 of that document, you'll see that 804 graduates of unaccredited law schools passed the bar exam in 2011, as did 1,708 graduates of foreign law schools.
I think the latter category is likely to grow over the next decade, especially if U.S. law schools attempt to prop up their budgets by offering more LLMs to foreign students. But being conservative, as I have been throughout this post, we can apply 2011's total to each year in the decade. That adds another 2,512 lawyers a year--or 25,120 for the decade--competing for 218,800 job openings.
More than 426,000 law graduates (estimated conservatively) competing for just 218,800 jobs. Next up, although this may take me a few days: What kind of jobs are these anyway? And what do they pay?