Employment Among Michigan Lawyers Is Increasing

Commentary - second of a series

Don LeDuc, President and Dean | November 08, 2013

As noted in an earlier report in this series, employment of Michigan lawyers increased by 5.2% over the past three years, according to comprehensive data included in the State Bar of Michigan’s annual report Statewide and County Demographics 2013-14.  This report focuses on the nature of employment among Michigan lawyers reporting employment.  The earlier report details unemployment numbers and rates.

The State Bar identifies 13 occupational categories, including a "non-law related" and a catch-all "other."  The first of the two charts below shows the numbers reported in each category, eliminating those in the State Bar data as "unreported" or "unemployed."  The second chart shows the percentage in each category compared to the total reporting employment.  [The percentages in the State Bar report are calculated based on the total number of lawyers, while this report calculates the percentage based only on those reporting employment.]

Lawyer Employment by Occupation

Occupation

2010

2011

2012

2013

Inc.

% Inc

Academia

593

608

607

615

22

3.70%

Corporate Counsel

2,744

2,814

2,852

2,971

227

8.30%

Government

2,906

2,967

2,882

2,947

41

1.40%

Government Relations

79

97

109

113

34

43.00%

Judiciary

1,181

1,191

1,196

1,207

26

2.20%

Legal Services

2,274

2,327

2,370

2,375

101

4.40%

Law School

128

145

147

136

8

6.30%

Military

41

41

36

38

-3

-7.30%

Non-Law Related

1,403

1,352

1,423

1,475

72

5.10%

NonProfit Orgs

334

382

410

437

103

30.80%

Other

653

742

852

945

292

44.70%

Private Practice

16,806

17,120

17,194

17,391

585

3.50%

Total

29,142

29,786

30,078

30,650

1,508

5.20%

 

Lawyer Employment by Percentage of Occupation

Occupation

2010

2011

2012

2013

Change

 

Academia

2.00%

2.00%

2.00%

2.00%

0

 

Corporate Counsel

9.40%

9.40%

9.50%

9.70%

0.3

 

Government

10.00%

10.00%

9.60%

9.60%

-0.4

 

Govern. Relations

0.30%

0.30%

0.40%

0.40%

0.1

 

Judiciary

4.10%

4.00%

4.00%

3.90%

-0.2

 

Legal Services

7.80%

7.80%

7.90%

7.70%

-0.1

 

Law School

0.40%

0.50%

0.50%

0.40%

0

 

Military

0.10%

0.10%

0.10%

0.10%

0

 

Non-Law Related

4.80%

4.50%

4.70%

4.80%

0

 

NonProfit Orgs

1.10%

1.30%

1.40%

1.40%

0.3

 

Other

2.20%

2.50%

2.80%

3.10%

0.9

 

Private Practice

57.70%

57.50%

57.20%

56.70%

-1

 

Total

29,142

29,786

30,078

30,650

1,508

(5.2%)

These figures cover a period beginning at roughly the end of the national recession and ending in August 2013, when the slow national recovery continued.  What they show is perhaps most remarkable in its lack of remarkability. The earlier report established that unemployment in Michigan was low and flat, falling by 0.1% during these three years (to 1.7% in 2013 using the State Bar methodology or to 2.0% using the U. S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Standards methodology).  The number of those reported as "unemployed seeking employment"—the BLS definition of unemployed—was actually lower in 2013 than in 2010.

With a single exception—military, which lost 3—all employment categories showed an increase in real numbers, ranging from 8 in law schools to 585 in private practice.  The distribution among the categories during the past three years was quite consistent, with the largest change being a 1.0% decline among those reporting employment in private practice.

As with unemployment, the employment data undermines arguments about the job market and the impact of recent law school graduates on that market.  Over the past three years, the number of licensed lawyers increased 1,141, while the number of lawyers reporting employment increased by 1,508. 

Contrary to an often-heard, but unsupported, assertion that new graduates are flooding the private practice market, only a little over one-third (38.8%) of the real number growth was in private practice (585 of 1,508) and the percentage of lawyers reporting private practice employment actually declined over the past three years.  Of course, the data does not establish that the growth was due to a particular reason, which could include new graduates going into practice, as well as career changes by current members leaving other employment for private practice.

Another frequent assertion is that recent graduates are taking jobs that are not "law" jobs.  The date includes a category labeled "non-law related.  However, the number reporting employment in that category grew at nearly the exact rate as the growth in employment overall (5.1% to 5.2% overall), and the percentage of Michigan lawyers reporting such employment in 2013 is identical to that in 2010 (both at 4.8% of total employment).

A significant change is in the reporting of employment status by Michigan’s lawyers.  In 2010, 1,721 lawyers failed to report their status, but that number fell to 968 in 2013, a drop of 753 or 43.8%).  While bar membership grew by 1,141, employment grew by 1,508, a difference of 367.  At the same time, those reporting that they were unemployed and seeking employment fell very slightly, from 594 to 590.  Given that 753 additional lawyers reported their status and 4 less lawyers reported unemployment, it does not appear that the "not reported" category masks the unemployment situation to any significant degree, if at all.

A related question remains—those lawyers reporting they were "not employed-not seeking employment" increased from 321 to 469 between 2010 and 2013.  These lawyers constituted 1.0% of the Michigan membership in 2010 and 1.4% of the membership in 2013.  Arguably, these could be considered "discouraged workers" who have given up.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics treats this category as being outside the work force and excludes them from employment computations. 

On the other hand, a separate report provided by the State Bar shows that of those choosing to report occupational status as "not employed-not seeking" by gender 69.7% were female.  Given that the overall membership of the Michigan is still less than one-third female and that the "not employed not seeking" category is over two-thirds female the obvious question is—"why?"  Is there a difference in qualifications?  Is there discrimination?  Is this the result of a gender differential in family and child-raising commitments?  Is this a difference in gender regarding how legal education and legal work are viewed or valued? While this would be an interesting area for follow-up, the numbers in this category are so small that they do not have a major impact on legal employment.

In sum, unemployment among Michigan lawyers remains quite low and total employment of Michigan lawyers has increased faster than the increase in new members.