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February 02, 2013


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The BLS 22,000 prediction I understand to be net new hiring and rolls in the retirement of lawyers over the next decade. Moreover, you need to remember that the current profession 1 skews young, that is to say the massive growth in the last 20 years means that a lot of lawyers are only in their forties - and a lot of lawyers will retire later because of poor pension provision and the ability to work for longer

John Coates

It may be of interest that the number of students at six schools called "elite" by people other than me (I went to NYU, which is not one the six) has not changed since 1970. See The share of all JDs at those schools shrank from 9% to 4% from 1970 to 2011.

On the fundamentals of demand, meanwhile, the population grew from 200 to 300 million, roughly, and GDP from $1 to $15 trillion. Litigation grew significantly from 1970 to 1990 in both state and federal courts, including business litigation,, but federal court cases at least has been flat since 2000. M&A activity has gone through cycles but continues to much higher today than in 1970.

But for disruptive technological innovation, which has increased productivity of legal service providers and substitution to non-JDs, demand would have outstripped the supply of JDs. Because no one can confidently estimate how far those IT-driven trends can go, I am not surprised people have very different intuitions on what the average future value of the JD will be. Being lawyers, however, commentators don't let that stop them from making strong claims in opposite directions.


reallyjuniorprof there is a very simple flaw in the analysis - which was incidentally seems to have been made to achieve a particular objective - showing demand for new law graduates to be at least 50,000 per annum - the current capacity of US law schools. If your analysis was correct there would not have been shortfalls in hiring that predate the recession. But indeed hiring has been poor for over a decade. Employment at 9 months has been according to NALP's very optimistic dataset:

2001 68.3 percent;
2002 67 percent;
2003 65.5 percent;
2004 65.1 percent;
2005 66.7 percent;
2006 68.3 percent;
2007 70.7 percent;
2008 67.2 percent;
2009 62.5 percent.

You also need to know a key fact about BLS unemployment data - it bases the occupation of the unemployed person on what their last job was. If they were driving a cab, a barista, waiting tables, they are not counted as an unemployed lawyer. There are about 1.5-1.6 million million extant JDs in the US workforce, but BLS reports only 570,000 lawyers. Where are the missing million?

Deborah J Merritt

Veryjuniorprof, it's excellent that you're examining the numbers, but I think there are some errors in your calculation. Here are some suggestions:

1. In looking at an extensive time period, I would take numbers from the beginning and ending months--not the average annual figures (as it seems you did). In January 2000, there were 1,470,000 people working in "legal occupations." In January 2013, there were 1,704,000, an increase of 234,000. Dividing by thirteen years, we get an average increase of 18,000 new positions in the legal industry, not the 32,000 you originally posted. (The 32,000, I think, may itself have been a calculation error. If you take the annual numbers and do the math, you get an average of 29,167.)

2. So now we have to figure out how many of these positions were for lawyers rather than paralegals and other support workers. As you acknowledge, there's some danger in extrapolating backward but, if we take the 65% as the best approximation, that gets us to an average of 11,700 new positions a year.

3. Even this is a little high because "legal occupations" also include hearing officers, mediators, and conciliators. Most of those positions do not require either a JD or bar admission--although some law grads fill them as JD advantage positions. To get a better number, we would have to exclude those categories as well as the paralegals and "other support." But I haven't tried to do that in this calculation.

4. The replacement rates you assume are too high. We can't assume that everyone who leaves a position is replaced. BLS has more sophisticated formulas for calculating replacement.

BLS actually does the full calculation, incorporating still more variables, through its 10 year projections. Those show that the economy will support about 228,400 new positions for lawyers, judicial law clerks, or judges/magistrates over the next ten years--or 22,840 per year. That figure includes all retirements. There is other supporting documentation on how BLS reaches these projections. See

Keep looking at the data--it's very important for law professors and others in the legal industry to do that.


Thanks Deborah -- I had not seen that BLS analysis. I readily concede that theirs is more reliable than mine. And I am happy that folks seem to understand my underlying point, viz., that we need to consider both sides of the equation, not just the supply side, if we are to meaningfully discuss rightsizing the academy's output of JDs.

John Coates

One other point on the BLS data:

The BLS distinguishes a number of occupations (e.g. compliance) that employ JDs.

This is part of why there is a lower number of legal jobs in BLS stats than there is in, e.g., ABA data.

John Coates

And one other driver of demand: WIPO data show patent applications rose by 500% from 1980 (the first year they give data) to 2011.

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