Unemployment Among Michigan Lawyers Remains Low

Commentary - first of a series

Don LeDuc, President and Dean | November 07, 2013

Despite the persistently slow economic recovery and contrary to popular misconception, unemployment among Michigan’s licensed lawyers remains low, according to data provided by the State Bar of Michigan. This analysis is based on their report entitled Statewide and County Demographics (2013-14), which includes data covering the active, licensed, Michigan resident members of the State Bar of Michigan as of July 2013.

According to this data, unemployment among licensed Michigan resident lawyers seeking employment is 1.7% or 590 of the 34,204 active Michigan resident members. Another 1.4% of the membership is reported as unemployed, but not seeking employment.

Based on State Bar of Michigan Definitions, Lawyer Unemployment Decreased

The total active Michigan resident membership of the State Bar of Michigan increased by 1,141 during the past three years, an increase of 3.5% or 1.2% per year. Eliminating the retirees, all those not reporting, and both types of unemployment, the data shows that in the past three years employment of licensed lawyers grew by 1,508, an increase of 5.2% or 1.7% per year.

 

2010

 

2011

 

2012

 

2013

 

Total Active

33,063

 

33,492

 

33,737

 

34,204

 

Unreported

1,721

(5.2%)

1,315

(3.9%)

1,121

(3.3%)

968

(2.8%)

Retired

1,285

(3.9%)

1,364

(4.1%)

1,473

(4.4%)

1,527

(4.5%)

Unemployed
  Seeking

594

(1.8%)

639

(1.9%)

623

(1.8%)

590

(1.7%)

Unemployed
  Not Seeking

321

(1%)

388

(1.2%)

442

(1.3%)

469

(1.4%)

Employed

29,142

(88.1%)

29,786

(88.9%)

30,078

(89.2%)

30,650

(89.6%)

The State Bar’s report format slightly understates the unemployment picture, because those whose employment status is not reported are included in the percentage computations, as are those who are retired.  These lawyers are not really in the work force, so the work force number is somewhat overstated and the percentage of unemployed is understated.

The work force total reported also includes those lawyers not seeking employment. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the official unemployment reporting body, excludes those not seeking employment from its calculations. This also affects the unemployment calculations.  

Based Also on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Definitions, Lawyer Unemployment Decreased

Recasting the State Bar data to exclude (1) those active resident members not reporting, (2) those who are retired, and (3) those who are not seeking employment makes the data comparable to that used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and  changes the unemployment percentages slightly. 

 

2010

 

2011

 

2012

 

2013

 

Active Total

33,063

 

33,492

 

33,737

 

34,204

 

Unreported

1,721

 

1,315

 

1,121

 

968

 

Retired

1,285

 

1,364

 

1,473

 

1,527

 

 

Not Seeking

321

 

388

 

442

 

469

 

Employed

29,736

 

30,425

 

30,701

 

31,240

 

Unemployed

594

(2.0%) 

639

(2.1%)

623

(2.0%)

590

(1.9%)

The number of lawyers in the work force increased by 1,504, employed lawyers grew by 1,508, and the number of unemployed lawyers seeking work fell by 4. Despite the increased numbers of reporting lawyers, the number of lawyers reporting that they were unemployed and seeking employment fell very slightly, declining 0.1% over the three years. The unemployment percentage has not varied by more than 0.1% from one year to the next for the past three years.

Some Interesting Trends Appear

Reporting by Michigan’s licensed lawyers has increased quite a bit. Even though the lawyer population grew by 1,141, the unreported figure fell by 753, so the percentage not reporting declined from just over 5% to just below 3%. Thus, the assertion that the unemployment rate is masked by the lack of full reporting or that those not reporting fail to do so because they are unemployed does not appear to be justified.

The number reporting their status as retired grew by 18.8% over the period or 6.3% annually, reflecting the aging of Michigan’s lawyer population.

Those reporting that they are not seeking employment have increased each year, but the numbers are sufficiently small that they do not have much impact (the State Bar computation puts the increased number reporting at 148 and the increase in unemployed not seeking at 0.4%--rising 1.0% to 1.4%). No data is collected explaining why some unemployed lawyers are not seeking employment, but the background data shows that far more of those who report the "not seeking" status are female (about 7 out of 10, although only 1 in 3 State Bar members is female).

For general comparison, the most recent annual average (2012) national unemployment percentage for lawyers was 1.4%.