The job market for lawyers is crumbling, with many recent law school graduates still looking for jobs.
Law schools, which have been churning out graduates in recent years are coming slowly to grips with reality. Applications have been on the decline for a few years and schools are cutting down on class sizes.
“The job market for lawyers has declined. More than two out of every five 2011 graduates did not obtain a full-time long-term job requiring a law degree,” said a 2013 letter from the Coalition of Concerned Colleagues to the American Bar Association.
Paralegals increasingly perform work formerly done by new associates, according to labor market specialists. Specialized computer software searches are also able to sift through thousands of legal documents using a fraction of the time needed by a human. Corporations and local, state, and federal government agencies are cutting their legal spending budgets, and many cases that formerly involved lengthy legal battles are increasingly settled through negotiations.
In addition, law firms are outsourcing certain legal research to foreign countries, which is a cost saving. Foreign lawyers are typically paid far less than U.S. lawyers.
Eye Openers in the Legal Environment
An overabundance of lawyers, a declining need for legal professionals, and exorbitant law school costs has become the perfect storm driving many prospective students away from a career in law.
Law school admission offices are adjusting to the decrease in number of applications by cutting down on class sizes for upcoming classes, according an October Kaplan Test Prep report.
In a new Kaplan Test Prep survey, 54 percent of law school admissions officers report cutting their entering law school classes for 2013-2014 and 25 percent plan to do so again next year.
The decrease in law school enrollment directly correlates to a decrease in law school applications, which declined from 602,300 applications in 2010 to 385,400 in 2013. The “Tax Prof Blog” also reports a 26 percent drop in law school applications since 2008.
“Law school applications for the fall of 2013 have dropped 17.9 percent,” said an article by the ABAJournal. Due to this drop, competition at top law schools is less than in past years. Even students with less-than-perfect test scores are now admitted to top law schools.
All this downsizing of law school classes and decreasing of applications go back to the problem of decreasing job openings for lawyers. However, this doesn’t mean that the job market for lawyers has dried up.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) “Occupational Outlook Handbook,” jobs in the legal sector will increase by about 10 percent between 2010 and 2020, yet this increase is too small for placing new law graduates.
A 2013 article on the Time website states that in 2007, 91.2 percent of law school graduates found jobs, while in 2009 only 65.4 percent of law school graduates were lucky enough to land jobs as lawyers.
While criticism of law schools has been widely reported, few law schools are changing the approach to law education in this country.
“Media members … criticized law schools, judges criticized law schools, outgoing deans of law schools that shamelessly profiteered off of unwitting law students criticized,” according to the “Above the Law” blog.
Yet, after all the criticism was dished out, no changes were made, because no one with authority took the effort to implement such changes.
The scaling down of law school enrolment only came about because of a smaller application pool and not because of changes in lawyer education or reform of law school practices. Proposed changes outlined in the “Above the Law” article include cutting back on esoteric research, decreasing tuition rates, and more real-world learning such as replacing the third year of study with apprenticeships and internships.