Legal Job Market Continues to Improve

Commentary

Don LeDuc, President and Dean | April 30, 2014

Employment data confirms that the market for law jobs is improving.

In 2008, our major recession started.  Here is a look at its impact on the nation’s lawyers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, our official compiler of employment information:

BLS Employment & Unemployment for Lawyers 2008-2013*
Year Total
Lawyers
#
Employed
%
Employed
#
Unemployed
%
Unemployed
2008 1,034,000 1,014,000 98.1% 20,000 1.9%
2009 1,067,000 1,043,000 97.7% 24,000 2.3%
2010 1,056,000 1,040,000 98.5% 16,000 1.5%
2011 1,108,000 1,085,000 97.9% 23,000 2.1%
2012 1,076,000 1,061,000 98.6% 15,000 1.4%
2013 1,113,000 1,092,000 98.1% 21,000 1.9%
Change
2008 to 2013
+79,000 +78,000 Same +1,000 Same

*Source: BLS Current Population Survey - Table 3. Employed and experienced unemployed persons by detailed occupation and class of worker, Annual Average 2008-2013 (unpublished, obtained by request).

Using 2008 as the base, the data shows a 79,000 increase in the number of lawyers over the past five years, an overall gain of 7.6% and an average annual increase of 15,800.  During the period, employed lawyers increased by 78,000, and unemployed lawyers by increased by 1,000.  The unemployment rate at the beginning and end was 1.9%.

The chart makes it clear that the economy has supported the largest increase in newly graduated lawyers in our history, during the most challenging economic circumstances in the past eighty years, without skipping a beat.  Newly admitted lawyers are finding employment.

The number of lawyers leaving through retirement and death are being replaced by an equal number of new lawyers.  Data reported elsewhere shows that the average working career for lawyers is between 35 and 40 years, meaning that something between 2.5% and 2.9% of the current lawyers leave the profession each year.  These represent replacement jobs.

In addition, 15,600 more lawyers are employed each year, according to this data.  These are new jobs.

Given that only a small increase in the number of unemployed lawyers was reported, with no increase in the percentage of unemployed lawyers, unemployed recent graduates are not flooding the lawyer market.  Most unemployed new lawyers from one year find employment in the next.

Lawyer retirements are accelerating due to the aging lawyer population.  At the same time, law school graduation numbers will shrink rapidly over the next four years.  That compels the conclusion that the job market for law graduates will be increasingly favorable starting now.