Courtesy of Matt Leichter, author of the invaluable Law School Tuition Bubble, more fun with numbers:
(1) How many J.D. degrees were conferred by ABA-accredited law schools between 1974 and 2008? The answer is about 1,340,000. (This number doesn't include people with law degrees from unaccredited law schools, which are currently pumping out about 10,000 J.D.'s per year, and people with law degrees from other legal systems).
(2) How many people in America were employed as lawyers in 2008? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 759,200.
(3) This suggests that 580,000 (43.3%) of the people who got law degrees from ABA-accredited law schools from 1974-2008 weren't working as lawyers in 2008. What happened to them? (This is actually a very conservative estimate, since it assumes that everyone working as a lawyer in the U.S. has a degree from an ABA law school, which obviously isn't true. A more realistic estimate is that fully half of the people who have gotten law degrees from ABA law schools over the past 35 years are not currently working as lawyers).
Actuarial tables suggest around 27,000 of them have died. So that leaves us with 553,000 unaccounted for law careers, that is, more than two out of every five people who graduated from law school from the mid-1970s until three years ago (Note these numbers omit everybody from the last three graduating classes, so they have nothing to do with whatever percentage of the current employment crisis is cyclical as opposed to structural).
All this would seem to indicate that the reaction of a lot of people in legal academia to the current state of affairs -- that the scam critique is just a product of the current recession, and that things will get back to "normal" soon -- completely misses the point.
The point is, there was already a massive oversupply of J.D. degree-holders relative to the market for legal employment prior to the present crisis. And, as Leichter's analysis so clearly shows, the bad consequences of this oversupply for law school graduates have been exacerbated drastically by the skyrocketing cost of getting a J.D.
30 years ago, you could get a J.D. from a typical state school for a total three-year tuition investment of around $10,000 (in present, 2010 dollars). A private school would cost a total of about $40,000 (again in present dollars), but in both cases the bulk of the cost -- in the case of public law schools basically all of the cost -- of going to law school was that it took you out of the labor market for three years. Today private law school tuition is around $115,000 and public schools are twice as expensive relative to private ones as they were a generation ago (and the gap continues to close). And that cost increase is now being covered almost exclusively by non-dischargeable debt.
Forget about the last three years for the moment. Even if things magically went back to the way they were in 2007 -- in other words if 100% of the current employment crisis for recent law grads was cyclical rather than structural -- we would still be in the midst of two long term trends that together are wholly unsustainable. Those trends are:
(1) The increasing oversupply of people with law degrees relative to the number of people who can pay for legal services, given the cost of legal services, which in turn is a product of the cost of getting law degrees; and
(2) The increasing cost of acquiring law degrees.
In other words, this is what is known as negative synergy, or a destructive feedback loop, or less technically, a seriously messed up situation. The problem is not, as it is so often phrased, that there are "too many lawyers:" it's that there are way too many lawyers given what it costs to become a lawyer, which is what has made it "impracticable" for something like half of the people who went to law school over the last three and a half decades to practice law.
(Note that the BLS projects that over the next decade the American economy will generate about 27,000 new law jobs per year, i.e., a little more than half the number of J.D. degrees that will be granted by ABA-accredited schools during that time. So that's a couple of hundred thousand more missing lawyers right there).
The scam blog movement has merely put its own exclamation point on what in the halls of legal academia and the offices of the ABA is a still an astonishingly under-acknowledged set of facts.