Although the current situation is clearly different in several respects, it's intriguing to read some of the comments in these four classic ABA Journal articles documenting the change in law school enrollment. I have clipped some interesting passages. (And I linked the citations to Hein, which will hopefully allow some readers easier access. Alternate access may be available through Google. Or a library.)
Millard Ruud, then the ABA Consultant on Legal Education, and James White, his successor opined on issues of growing class size, gender and race diversity, the expanding number of law schools, placement concerns, and the lack of placement data, among other things.. One thing is surely different today: the price of legal education. But one wonders what the public dialogue would have been during these transformational years, if we had had an Internet and the granular placement data now available.
From Millard Ruud, That Burgeoning Law School Enrollment 58 A.B.A.J. 146 (1972)
An extrapolation [from current data] suggests that there will be 23,000 new admissions to the Bar in 1972, 27,000 in 1973 and 29,000 in 1974. The number of lawyers in 1971 probably will be doubled before 1985.
The 1971 and prospective 1972 law graduates are finding it more difficult to locate suitable positions. The competition for the positions considered most desirable will be even more brisk in the years immediately ahead. The United States Department of Labor in its Occupational Outlook Handbook (1970-1971 edition) estimates the average annual openings to 1980 to be 14,500 and describes employment prospects: "Very good prospects for graduates from widely recognized law schools and those who rank high in class. Others may encounter difficulty finding salaried jobs as lawyers. The increased use of legal services by low• and middle-income groups will add to the long term growth in demand."
lt should be noted that the estimated 14,500 average annual openings are significantly below the estimated new admissions to the Bar. However, it should be remembered that not all licensed lawyers seek professional positions. Historically, the legal profession has not attempted to control the number of lawyers by limiting the opportunities for legal education.
Problems for both the profession and the public are generated by an oversupply of lawyers. Studies suggest that the lawyers having most difficulty in obtaining a satisfactory professional income are those most likely to appear before bar grievance committees. An oversupply of lawyers may aggravate the problem.
From Millard Ruud, That Burgeoning Law School Enrollment Slows, 59 A.B.A.J. 150 (1973):
An obvious question is whether all of these well-trained and well-qualified law graduates will find suiatble professional opportunities...law school placement officers and law seniors perceive placement as tight and so are trying harder. One consequence is that law firms are receiving letters of inquiry and application at unprecedent rates....
The Task Force on Professional Utilization struck a positive note when it declared that "the existence of a large pool of well-qualified, legally trained individuals constitutes a major opportunity and should be viewed as a significant resource." The interest of the public and of the profession will be served by the joining of forces of the organized bar and the law school to find suitable tasks for the increasing number of better-prepared and better-qualified men and women who are being graduated from law school.
From Millard Ruud, That Burgeoning Law Enrollment is Portia, 60 A.B.A.J. 182 (1974):
Concern persists about whether these increased numbers of better qualified and better educated young men and women will be able to find professional employment and about just what the impact of these increased numbers of law school applicants, law students, law graduates, and new admittees to the bar will be on the public's interest in adequate and ethical legal services, the profession, and legal education. No comprehensive national figures exist on the placement of law school seniors and recent graduates....
Conversations with law school deans and placement officers give the impression that despite the larger number [of law students] placement continues at the same rate of recent years...The other [sic] than conventional positions and places are receiving more attention....Increased co-operation by the organized bar and the law schools is needed more than ever to assist the increasing number of better qualified and better prepared young men and women law graduates to find suitable professional employment.
From James White, Is That Burgeoning Law School Enrollment Ending, 61 A.B.A.J. 202 (1975):
In the past year, law students, faculty, and members of the bar have expressed serious concern whether the increased numbers of law school graduates will be able to find satisfactory professional employment....
Correspondence and conversations with law school deans, placement officers, and members of the bar give the impression that placement is at a somewhat lesser rate than in the past several years. The uncertainty of the economy also creates placement uncertainties. More law school graduates appear to be finding employment in less conventional positions.