In 2010, lawyers had one of the lowest unemployment rates among all management and professional occupations.
What is the status of legal employment? The answer is three-fold: the unemployment rate has been consistently low for both lawyers and legal occupations as a whole over the last ten years, the total number of workers employed in legal occupations has increased every year, and the recession has had less of an impact on lawyers and legal occupations than it has on other management and professional occupations.
The 2010 unemployment rate of 1.5% for lawyers is significantly lower than the national unemployment rate of 9.6%. The 2010 unemployment rate is only slightly higher than both the 2007 pre-recession rate of 1.1% and the 2001 rate of 1.0%. Low unemployment rates were maintained even in light of substantial growth during the 2001-2010 decade, during which the number of employed lawyers grew by 13.4% and the number employed in all legal occupations grew by 16.7%.
Contrary to the assertions of the bloggers and media, who tend to rely heavily on anecdotal information about the world of the large law firms, the legal occupations and lawyers in particular have been considerably less affected by the recession than other management and professional occupations. Of the ten management and professional occupation categories identified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, legal occupations had the smallest increase in unemployment rate both from 2001 to 2010 and from 2007 to 2010. Among the more detailed management and professional occupations most likely to be career options for potential lawyers, only a handful had lower unemployment rates than lawyers at the end of the decade.
Furthermore, the national unemployment rate for all occupations increased five percent from 4.6% in 2007 to 9.6% in 2010, while the rate for legal occupations increased less than half of one percent from 2.3% to 2.7%. All of the other BLS management and professional occupational categories showed double or nearly double increases in their unemployment rates over the same period. Before the recession, the unemployment rate for legal occupations ranked sixth lowest among the ten BLS management and professional occupational categories at 2.3%. By 2010 legal occupations had improved their rank to second lowest among those ten categories.
Finally, the 2010 data also indicated signs of recovery in the legal occupations, particularly among lawyers, where the number of unemployed lawyers fell by one-third from 2009 to 2010. The total number of employed lawyers has increased by 39,000 (3.9%) since 2007.
In sum, the data shows that the blogs and media segment have it almost completely wrong. Unbiased national data from the past ten years establishes that the legal profession has one of the lowest unemployment rates, one of the most stable job markets, and is one of the least susceptible to the effects of economic recession, making the legal profession one of the best career choices.