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January 23, 2014


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Former Law Review Editor

52,000 applicants? That's a huge reduction from a few years ago. I think that was the historic enrollment in 2010, right?

Rough math, 52,000 applicants means 39,000 admits, and 33,000 enrollees? Dang, that's a sharp dropoff.


At this rate equilibrium of say 22,000 admits might well be reached by 2017-8

But it's going to hurt - a lot


For a little recent historical perspective, from 2004-2011, the low number for ADMITTED applicants to law schools was 55,500 in 2008, with total applicants ranging from 77,800 to 98,700.

In 2010, 52,500 students actually enrolled in law school.

When reviewing the numbers, it is easy to see how law professors/deans were so dismissive of the law school crisis that has been crippling graduates for years. As long as those applicants continued to submit those applications and FAFSA forms, the music continued to play in law-law land. It's looking like next year will be the fourth straight year of declining classes, from 48,700 in 2011, to 44,500 in 2012, to 39,675 in 2013 ( to 3?,??? in 2014. To quote one of your colleague's favorite lines, "if something can't go on forever, it won't."

terry malloy

"But it's going to hurt - a lot"

Some, yes. However, it will not hurt law students and new lawyers.

Ben Barros

MacK, what are you basing the 22,000 number on? And what, precisely, do you mean by equilibrium?


A rough projection - if the fall continues at the current rate 52,000 to 33,000 (suggested ) in 4 years, that is 40% in 4 years. At that rate 33,000 in 2014 could reach around 22,000 by 2017-8.

By equilibrium I am taking the BLS projection of about 22,000 new legal jobs p.a. If that is right demand and supply may be near level. However, bubbles typically undershoot long-medium term pricing and demand when they burst. In any event the rate of decline is astonishing. If some of the lower ranked law schools close and the remaining schools feel less marketing pressure and discount less the levels could fall even lower after apparent equilibrium.

You will note that I am discounting the large number of unemployed JDs - or at least not employed as lawyers. Frankly, it is tough, but if someone has no practice experience 1-2 years post graduation (except clerks), or has not practiced for 4-6+ years! it would be very hard for them to get into the profession.


Terry - no it won't hurt lawyers and new law graduates, but I see a lot of pain for law schools and law professors.

terry malloy

Agreed, MacK.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Ben Barros

Okay, thanks. I think you are making a serious mistake in relying on BLS projections in this context, for the reasons I explained in my prior post about BLS numbers. You might be right that applications will continue to trend down that far. They shouldn't, but this isn't a rational market right now. We are virtually certain to have the best job market ever for entry level lawyers within two years, and should have outright shortages of entry-level lawyers soon thereafter. The only argument to the contrary is based on two related incorrect assertions. The first is that nine-month job data is the final word on legal employment. As you know, I showed that is false. The second is that in a good job market, we would have 100% employment in nine months. Even in the very strong job market of the early 2000s, the full-time, permanent JD job percentage was 70%. (Nine month data, of course, wasn't the full story then, either. If we really wanted to do something about how long it takes people to get jobs, we would change the timing of the bar exam). Based on these two points about nine-month job data, I can't imagine how there won't be a shortage of entry-level lawyers, even if the economy does not improve.

MacK, you think a lot about these things. I'm guessing that you disagree with these points. If so, why? And can you point to reliable data to back up your position? I'm seriously interested in the answer. I look at the numbers, and I can't see how anyone could come to the conclusion that the legal job market in a couple of years won't be the best ever.



Even if the job market in a couple years is the "best ever," it still doesn't mean it will be good. Many law jobs are terrible, and worth nowhere near the three years and $100-$200k investment it takes to qualify for them.

Former Law Review Editor


3 points. First, the BLS is official data, compiled by a staff of professional labor economists. You did not "show[] that is false." Second, the BLS looks at net jobs in the sector, not entry level jobs, etc. You can't assume 22,000 new jobs mean 100 percent employment for newbies. There are scores of un/underemployed grads from the last few years out there. These will sop up a lot of excess and put the brakes on brand new hiring to some extent. Third, try harder to imagine "how there won't be a shortage of entry-level lawyers." Biglaw was/is the biggest soak for entry level lawyers. Government jobs were the second source. Many of those jobs have disappeared and aren't coming back. If you were a firm (a mid to small firm) or a governmental agency, why wouldn't you hire lawyers who have 2 or 3 years of experience for your entry level job at entry level pay? There is so much slack in the market now, that for the next 3 or 4 years, wages will continue to fall, not rise. PAYE incentives further exacerbate this as there is very little turnover in government jobs now.



There are a large number of reasons the legal job market won't be the best ever. First, and most important, there is a huge difference between the market now and say in the 60s - which is that you do not have an enormous number of experienced practitioners far away yet from retirement and without the actual financial resources to retire on. So a huge part of the problem is that many of the last 30-40 years worth of entrants to the profession have years to go before they need to, or can, retire.

Second, there are structural changes happening in the profession that frankly, law professors don't have a clue about. BigLaw is in reality in very unhealthy shape - it relies on an increasingly steep pyramid structure for revenues, while GC's, the people who hire BigLaw are coming down hard on costs. Since a lot of the work that the base of the pyramid in BigLaw relied on for the last 3 decades was fungible clerical tasks, this is proving brutal for junior lawyers who did that work - hence all the document review monkey jobs you heard about for your graduates paying $20 per hour with no job security.

Third, cost pressure is relentless - I know, I negotiate bills all the time. And while my "rack rate" is eye-popping, actual fee structures are much more complex. I can honestly say I have never seen cost pressure as hard as it is today.

Fourth, you talk about a strong general job market - but this is a factor that I had not mentioned - graduate school including law school enrolment is CONTRA-CYCLICAL, in recessions law school applications historically WENT UP not down. Realistically right now they application rate should be soaring - but its not. What do you think better employment for ordinary graduates will do to law school applications - if they are falling now - the will plunge when employment goes up.

Next you say the 9-month data is false - I hate to say this, but Campos, Dybbuk, you and me (but not Brian Leiter and Steve Diamond) all seem to agree that the date is - well at least unreliable. Maybe our view of its unreliability is different. However, the big issue is a simple one, someone that is not employed by February the year after they graduated law school is pretty unlikely to find legal employment - and at 2 years, frankly, they will almost never find legal employment. You talk about the timing of the bar exam - but someone who has not passed the bar exam by the February after graduation - presumably failed the exam the first time - that is pretty fatal for employment (since Leiter leaked my name (thanks Dan)) I passed the first time, but the nature of my 'clerking' meant that I could not travel to take the interview in May the next year, but that is unusual.

Now I will add something, I know a lot of lawyers that never received a NALP form - but did get begging letters from the alumni office. I have never worked out why, but it does seem to me that placement offices were spinning even 20 years ago the numbers, and seeking to cherry pick the data so that they only asked those they know to be employed in BigLaw straight out of law school.

Frankly BLS's data is the most reliable. I'll add a point, that I will admit to discussing with Paul Campos from time to time - in almost every metro area - at least 2 years ago, when you looked at BLS data, average and median earnings for lawyers were less than every law school in that metro area was claiming its new graduates were earning - EVERY NEW JD WAS AS A FIRST YEAR LAWYER WAS APPARENTLY EARNING MORE THAN EXPERIENCED LAWYERS. It was nonsense then, it is nonsense now.

One other thing to know about employment data from the BLS - unemployment and employment levels are based on the last job the worker had. Even if they have a JD and passed the bar, if they were never employed as a lawyer they will never be counted as an unemployed lawyer. If you were last a barrista - you won't be counted as a barrister. That is part of why the data shows low unemployment for lawyers. Drive a cab, work a bar, make coffee, you'll never be a statistical lawyer until you practice law. Stop practicing law to drive a cab, work a bar, make coffee - same result.


Former Law Review Editor:

I have to disagree with your statement "Biglaw was/is the biggest soak for entry level lawyers." In reality BigLaw at its peak probably took maybe 15% of new JDs. The perception was that it was hiring everybody and paying 98% of graduates from every law school $160k p.a., but that was always horses hit. The reality was that most new graduates secured employment for a few years with small and medium law - and a few (like me) in specialist boutiques. In the 60s-80s tuition was not enormous, property prices moderate, Joe Banks still offered a decent suit and a law graduates earned around 2 times the median income in the US to start. It was reasonably viable for small and medium law to take in the occasional associate and train them up, and if they worked out, offer them a partnership in 5-7 years.

Soaring tuition more than anything else destroyed that model - that and the weird greedy associates phenomenon - plus I argue a series of awfully unrealistic legal drama series starting with LA Law and continuing to Ally McBeal. We will see where things end up, but I suspect we will return to a model where starting pay is a lot lower, rises steadily until more partnership offers are made - but it could take decades.


Enough precincts have reported in to LSAC that our projection desk can confidently call the results for 2014 to be 10-15% below 2013 enrollment. Most likely closer to 10% as we seem to be continuing last year's trend of the percentage decline in applicants lessening as the year goes on combined with the likelihood that admissions offices will be ever more aggressive in their attempt to fill out the class. Thus, we're looking at a 35-36K enrollment next September.

I think FLRE overstates the ability of BLS to project demand. That fact that this is "official data" prepared by "a staff of professional labor economists" doesn't mean squat. It doesn't mean their estimate is too conservative nor does it mean that it isn't. We are getting closer to a balance between graduating students and increased demand whatever that is, though this has been occurring with little help from the law schools or their faculty. What will be happening over the next year or two is that the focus will be less about the inability to find any job at all and more toward the imbalance between the cost of attending law school and the salaries that the typical graduate can expect.

A final point to consider is how the decline in attendance will be accommodated. Do a substantial number of law schools have to shut down or will most schools from the lower T-14 down have to reduce their enrollment? There are plenty of schools that have class sizes below 100 so it is theoretically possible to keep reducing enrollment. However, this will require some combination of headcount and compensation reduction well beyond what most schools can expect to accomplish through attrition. It's time to get your box of popcorn out and watch as it plays out.

Steven Freedman


Are you certain the BLS stats are the best numbers to use to determine how many jobs will be available for law graduates? If so, how do you explain the following stats from NALP for graduates finding full-time JD required positions:

2010 25,654
2011 24,902
2012 26,876

Note that this does not include students finding JD advantage jobs, students finding professional jobs, students taking part-time positions that lead to full-time ones, etc. It also does not include students who find employment after the nine month mark, as Prof. Barros' survey demonstrated occurs frequently.

Considering it's not such a crazy idea to expect some growth in hiring as the economy improves, seems to me that the 22,000 figure is not a particularly useful one when trying to figure out how many attorney jobs will be available to law school graduates. It also seems to me that students graduating in 2015-2018 will be in a very good position for employment.


Frankly, Steven, when you ask "how do you explain the following stats from NALP for graduates finding full-time JD required positions" you are ignoring the range of scandals, admissions, etc., of law schools cooking the books on employment. You will recall (Steve Diamond usually glosses over this detail) that the law schools won the scam suits not because they cooked the data, but because the judges rules that as sophisticated consumers, the applicants to the law schools were not fooled. I have to say by the time a law school is using a "puffery" defines that would not work for a lawyer in front of a bar ethics panel, things are pretty desperate.

NALP's data is junk - many people can tell you that, spun, cooked, smoothed bullshit! The law schools have been gaming NALP for decades - and it is by now not a secret to anyone well informed, including many faculty posting on this forum.

BLS data is derived from much more reliable sources, with no incentive to cook the data. If you don't believe me, read this:

I do not think there is anything more likely to cause a mushroom cloud to appear over the head of many readers than anyone suggesting NALP data can be relied upon, from NYU to Cooley, there are so many instances of schools being caught cooking their NALP employment data as to be an outright joke.

Ben Barros

Jilly, I disagree with your premise. I agree that people should be concerned with cost. All of the actual data, however, shows that law school is worth it. See Simkovic and McIntyre. The third wave of the After the JD study, which will be out in a few months, is broadly consistent with Simkovic and McIntyre. If anyone has good data to the contrary, I'd be happy to see it. I'd hope that by this point in the debate, people would be embarrassed to point to entry-level salary data when they are discussing the long-term value of a law degree.

FLRE, you didn't read my comment correctly. I did not say that I had disproved the BLS data. I did say that I had disproved the notion that nine-month data tells the whole story on legal employment. What I did do re: BLS data is actually talked to the people at the BLS about what their data means and how they collect it. In other words, unlike pretty much everyone else on the interwebs, I tried to figure out what the BLS data mean before spouting off about them. See my prior post on BLS data here on the Faculty Lounge. On the subject of the number of currently underemployed and unemployed recent graduates, read my prior post here on nine month job data. Then think about it. Sure, there are some unemployed and underemployed recent grads out there. My study strongly suggests that there are far fewer than you are assuming. (Unless you are using "scores" literally to mean groups of 20, which is undoubtedly correct nationwide). This gets to your third point about slack - I don't think there is that much out there. Some, but not enough to meet demand in a couple of years. Also, as MacK point out, big law isn't as big a driver as you suggest. I'm confident, by the way, that big law will come back, though it might take some time. See my prior post about why I don't buy the structural change argument, at least as it relates to the current job market.

MacK, thanks for the response. Some thoughts, following your points. On your first point on retirement age, the conventional wisdom is that boomer retirements should clear out slots. Is that wrong? Is part of the point that many of these folks are not in a financial position to retire? I don't think this issue is dispositive of the larger point, but I think it is interesting. Is there any good data on this issue?

On the structural change and cost pressure points I agree, in a sense, but none of this is new. Sure, clients are fiercely reviewing bills. They were doing this at least by the late 1990s, when I was practicing. Around that time, a lot of clients were hiring consultants to review law firm bills. Maybe it is worse now, but this is not a new phenomenon. Also, right now clients have all the leverage. When the cycle turns around, the leverage will even out a bit. I was using a lot of contract attorneys in 1997 when I was running a huge document review. Yes, those jobs aren't great. I'd like to get a better sense of how many people are in those jobs, and how long they stay in them. In my study, it was 2 of 247, or 0.8%. It certainly could be higher in other markets. A little big-law related factoid that shows how quickly labor markets can change - in 1997, first years made $86K. Less than five years later, it was $160K. We always make a mistake, in good times and bad, if we assume that things won't change.

On the contra-cyclical point, let's be honest (not to suggest that your point is dishonest). The reason law school enrollment has dropped so far is that a conventional wisdom has taken hold that there are not enough jobs for graduates. At some point in human evolution, we must have interbred with some herd animal. This is just following the crowd.

On the nine-month data, I'd just say that my study showed that someone who is unemployed in February after they graduate is highly likely to get a job. I understand the intuitive idea behind this point, but it is just wrong. This is what I demonstrated in my post on nine-month job data. Too many people think about biglaw and federal clerkship hiring patterns. These patterns do not hold for the vast majority of the legal job market.

On the spinning data collection, I've never seen any evidence of it personally. If there was an effort to do that, the shift towards highlighting the response rate eliminated that incentive.

On the BLS data, it is interesting, but has its limits.

My take away so far is that there in fact is no data out there to refute the idea that there will be shortages of entry-level lawyers in a few years. Maybe law school enrollment needed a correction. Maybe it did not. But the drop has been so severe that there just won't be enough entry level lawyers out there to meet basic demand. In my view, this makes it a great time to go to law school, especially with the financial incentives out there. I don't, however, expect things to turn around quickly, because it is hard to change the conventional wisdom. If I was a legal employer, though, I'd start thinking now about what I'm going to do when that job that just a few years ago got 100 resumes isn't getting any at all.

No, breh.


Your commentary brought a couple issues to mind, and I'm going to ramble a bit, so bear with me.

First, I don't think the difference between 22k and, say, 26k is a huge one, although it is a significant one.

Second, if I recall, many of the make-work jobs created by law schools are full time/JD required, as are certain contract attorney/doc review jobs. Likewise, even full time bar required jobs offer minimal salaries.

Third, I have seen no evidence that JD "advantage" jobs, part time jobs, or anything other than a full time lawyer job is a desired result for the vast majority of law grads (see here: and here:, I know you all can't stand Campos)).

Fourth, because of the last few points, consider the number and proportion of jobs that might actually be desirable in any way to a given student.

Fifth, there are a few issues that make nine months a reasonable, if imperfect, number. As others have noted elsewhere, student loans (yes, that old bugaboo) generally come due about six months after graduation and bar results are uniformly released by the nine month mark. I think nine months is more than reasonable for that reason alone, since paying loans is going to be the issue that matters to most law students at the end of the day. Likewise, there really aren't many good jobs, other than perhaps some lower paying PI/government work, that are available to graduates after the nine month mark.

Sixth, there is the question of salary, which all too often goes ignored in these discussions. As much as it might be great to have one of those full time, long term, bar required jobs, it isn't so great unless one can afford to pay their loans and still live a modestly comfortable life.

Seventh, regardless of long term outcomes, the short term matters as well. If I'm a prospective student and I think I will need to go through ten or more years of misery just to maybe make a little bit more money or finally do some interesting work when I'm, say, 40 or 50 years old, it's still a raw deal.

TL;DR: Employment rate, job type, debt, and salary (perhaps relative to hours worked?) are the issues that matter. If prospective students view their expected outcome as a 50/50 chance of a real lawyer job with a low salary and high debt -- as I believe many rightfully do -- then they are absolutely right to avoid law school.

Sorry for not articulating the above better! Lawwwwwwwng day today, and I'm sleepy, and I'm not gonna reread that. Almost weekend time.

Jesus Buddha Mohammed

There are a number of law grads from the last few years who never got a legal job out of law school. For some of them, 2, 3, 4 years have passed and they are going to start completely giving up any hope of having a legal career. Yet those people are saddled with $150,000 - 250,000 of student loan debt for the rest of their lives.



Retirement age is something again that law professors really don't understand, since they are employed by universities with pension plans, etc. You need to get your head around a scary concept - most lawyers in private practice are essentially self-employed. They are responsible for their own pension - and they make pension contributions after the rent, the secretaries, the electricity, the malpractice insurance, IT, legal pubs and their own living expenses have been paid. So as a law professor, you know that come 65 or 67 or 25 years service or 30, you get to retire and your law school pays you a pension. As a law firm partner - well that's my problem - and if my mortgage is big, or we have a big tax bill, or my secretary needs a raise, or a client does not pay their bill - I don't make a pension contribution that year.

What does this mean in the overall economics - well I have maybe 15-20 years before I can retire, but I only recently was able to make any significant pension contributions - which NO-ONE matched! I mean, who is there to match, ME! And that is the case for the vast majority of private practice lawyers. So the idea that the baby boomers in the legal profession (I am just a boomer/buster) will enthusiastically retire over the next decade or two is a complete fantasy - most cannot afford to.

Leverage is a funny thing - maybe I have leverage, maybe my partners and I do, but we are a pretty special boutique, we do not do fungible work. Have you actually thought about what BigLaw associates do - for most tasks basic literacy is enough - and I hate to say it, but that applies to a fair amount of the corporate work the partners do too. A huge amount of what BigLaw has been paid is massive fees for volume work - document review. I had a girlfriend who was a Fulbright scholar, top Wall Street firm - she spent two years in their corporate department mostly making sure that no one fixed the typos in bond offering circulars for car credit and credit card securitizations (when you issued $20+ billion over many years with the typos and no-one sued you, it was worth having someone brilliant to make sure that the earlier typos and grammar errors did not get fixed.)

My contra-cyclical point is a simple one - the recession is driving students to law school, but it is insufficient to offset the drag that real information about employment outcomes and debt has created. Take the recession away and the collapse in applications will get worse, not better.

On nine-month data, you ignore employment quality. A temporary document review gig is not the same as a full time associate position. That some of those who are un-hired at 9-months secure some marginal employment does not address the basic issue - if someone is going to get good quality employment with a professional future in law, they will normally have secured it 9-months after graduation. The jobs that are left are mostly marginal, short term, and not good for a career.

Again, BLS data is compiled by professional labor economists using objective data, from the IRS, from surveys, from employer reports. NALP data is compiled by law school placement offices and marketing (enrolment) offices who have enormous incentives to skew the data. Who do you think is more trustworthy?

By the way, I'm preparing a cross-exam right-now where skewed data is at its heart - this is a look up my weary eyes moment.

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