Arnold Kling  

Recalculation Watch: Unemployed Law School Graduates

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Annie Lowrey reports,


The job market for lawyers is terrible, full stop--and that hits young lawyers, without professional track records and in need of training, worst. Though the National Association for Law Placement, an industry nonprofit group, reports that employment for the class of 2009 was 88.3 percent, about a quarter of those jobs were temporary gigs, without the salaries needed by most new lawyers to pay off crushing debts. Another 10 percent were part-time. And thousands of jobs were actually fellowships or grants provided by the new lawyers' law schools.

Anecdotally, I hear of law schools pulling all sorts of tricks to artificially raise their placement rates. Giving the student a free fourth year to pursue a more advanced degree is one.

Of course, one could argue that the problem is just low aggregate demand. Perhaps employment of lawyers goes up and down directly with output. Or perhaps the supply of law school students goes up when there is low aggregate demand elsewhere.


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COMMENTS (16 to date)
JP98 writes:

This is true but not at all new. The vast majority of students at the vast majority of law schools have had a hard time finding a decent-paying job (in view of the educational costs incurred) since at least the '80s. Of course, law schools (like dance schools, acting schools, music schools, etc.) do their darnedest to hide this.

J. Daniel Wright writes:

Or perhaps we are overproducing lawyers given the profession's actual demand.

From 2004 through 2008, the field grew less than 1% per year on average, going from 735,000 people making a living as attorneys to just 760,000, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics postulating that the field will grow at the same rate through 2016. Taking into account retirements, deaths and that the bureau's data is pre-recession, the number of new positions is likely to be fewer than 30,000 per year. That is far fewer than what's needed to accommodate the 45,000 juris doctors graduating from U.S. law schools each year.
Source: http://www.professorbainbridge.com/professorbainbridgecom/2010/01/too-many-lawyers-too-many-law-schools.html
mark writes:

Supposedly the Consumer Financial Product Safety Commission or whatever it is called is looking to hire more than 1,000 people so no doubt that will increase aggregate demand for lawyers.

Hyena writes:

The central problem is that law schools are cheap to produce and so are profitable for their schools. At the same time you have a lot of examples in the market where lawyers are more successful than average, often by wide margins.

It's easy to create law schools and easy to attract students, leading to a lot of very questionable students. I'd check bar passage rates to see.

A dude writes:

Just yet another sign that, like peak oil, we are past the peak of the complexity curve. Lawyers are involved in organizing society better, at the cost of greater complexity. We are now at the point of negative marginal returns on complexity.

Dave Schuler writes:
Anecdotally, I hear of law schools pulling all sorts of tricks to artificially raise their placement rates. Giving the student a free fourth year to pursue a more advanced degree is one.
This is an approach that universities have been using for years, particularly in the sciences. One way to spot a soft market for physicists, chemists, etc. is to check whether the number of post-docs is rising.
MattW writes:

It's funny to read articles about recent law grads being upset at the law school for their poor job prospects. There's a difference between the supply and demand for law school, and the supply and demand for lawyers.

It seems that this happened already with MBAs a few years ago. Now it's lawyers. Maybe next recession it'll be MPAs or some sort of public policy degree.

Rebecca Burlingame writes:

Legal system hurting for money? It's time for a good supply-side rant:
Is the legal gridlock of complex laws the real problem here? If lawyers thought more like businesspeople they would know they are working with a faulty product. Too many times a person pays a lawyer only to discover the laws are too convoluted to accomplish anything, so they stop going to the lawyer's office.

Or, why can't lawyers be more like doctors and economists: economists discuss what's going on in their profession so that the world knows what it is struggling with, I don't see lawyers doing that in terms of laws that need to be scrapped, revised or just completely starting over . Also, I do not see lawyers reaching out to the public (like doctors do) with good preventative legal advice, especially at local levels where it counts the most. For one thing, if a person doesn't get the preventative advice when they need it, there is little chance of "reviving the patient" afterwards.

And last but not least, liberals may dream of "philosopher king" presidents, but there needs to be a few philospher lawyers first. Maybe there once were, but my last check on the Barnes and Nobles bookshelf for law came up with almost nothing.

GU writes:
"Or, why can't lawyers be more like doctors and economists: economists discuss what's going on in their profession so that the world knows what it is struggling with, I don't see lawyers doing that in terms of laws that need to be scrapped, revised or just completely starting over ."

The vast majority of law review articles criticize current law and call for reform. Most of these articles are written by law professors, most of whom are lawyers, and some of whom practice (though most don't).

Perhaps the bone of contention is that real lawyers don't play "philosopher lawyer" often enough. First, in some areas like tax law, practicing lawyers do play a significant role in criticizing current law and offering reform ideas (see e.g., the publication "Tax Notes"). Second, if you're working 60 hours a week as a lawyer, and desire a non-work-related personal life, it's pretty difficult to play "philosopher lawyer."

GU writes:
"there needs to be a few [sic] philospher lawyers first."

Arnold Kling's head might explode upon reading that sentence.

JP98 writes:
The vast majority of law review articles criticize current law and call for reform. Most of these articles are written by law professors, most of whom are lawyers, and some of whom practice (though most don't).

Indeed, the legal academy is almost entirely made up of philosopher lawyers, in the sense of people with legal training who are concerned with issues far more abstract than what the average practitioner deals with.

Hyena writes:

But the key question is what you're supposed to do if things like going to law school or getting an MBA are out.

Silas Barta writes:
It's funny to read articles about recent law grads being upset at the law school for their poor job prospects. There's a difference between the supply and demand for law school, and the supply and demand for lawyers.

But ... but ... those are supposed to be complement goods!

I guess law schools serve the function of identifying people who are some weighted combination of overconfident and innumerate.

Liam writes:

Arnold, hearing that the world needs less lawyers is the best news I've heard all day!
This if course leads to some very appropriate lawyer jokes.

What do you call a law school with a declining enrollment rate?

A good start.

What do Lawyers use as birth control?

Their personalities.

Joe Cushing writes:

I graduated in 2009 with a master's degree in finance. I need training. I drive a truck.

CBBB writes:

The oversupply of law school graduates has two main causes, as I see it:

The first cause is that there is still a strong societal perception that graduating from a law school is a path to riches. I think there's still the idea that being a lawyer automatically means you'll be earning a huge salary.

The second cause is a direct result of the oversupply of university graduates generally. The vast majority of bachelors degrees are next to worthless these days and additional education is needed in order to land a professional-level job.
Law schools are amongst the few graduate education choices that don't require any specific prerequisite training.

Put together desperate university graduates with the illusion that a law degree is a license to print money and you get way too many people graduating from law schools.

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