The Legal Job Market: A Tough Business
This month, yet another class of law school graduates enters the marketplace eager to apply their newlyacquired skills and education. For far too many of these graduates, however, the law they will be confronting is not found in the C.P.L.R., the U.S. Code, or the Supreme Court Reporter. Indeed, it cannot be found anywhere in a law library. Rather, the law is found in economics textbooks, as law school graduates confront the law of supply and demand.

There is an axiom in the oil industry that the best remedy for high oil prices is high oil prices. Regrettably, it seems that the best remedy for unemployed lawyers is more unemployed lawyers. The market for lawyers has been adjusting in a predictable fashion, as the declining demand for legal services, with a corresponding increase in unemployed and underemployed lawyers, has led to a steep decline in law school applicants, from 100,000 in 2004 to 55,000 in 2014. This in turn has led to a substantial decrease in law school enrollment, as prospective students weigh the direct costs of three years of law school and the opportunity costs of three years of lost earnings against the likelihood that they may not be able to obtain suitable employment upon graduation. Some argue that a partial solution would be to eliminate the third year of law school to reduce the student debt burden, yet such a change would likely encourage more people to enroll in law school, thereby exacerbating the over-supply problem.
A combination of factors led to the steep drop in demand for legal services. One is simple economics, as the Great Recession reduced the number of people and businesses willing and able to pay for legal services. Even as the economy continues to recover, though, clients have been and are projected to remain conservative about engaging attorneys. Another is technology, as email, knowledge management software, document assembly programs, and case management software allow attorneys to work more efficiently. And yet another factor is the rise of internet websites such as LegalZoom that allow consumers to form corporations, register trademarks, and prepare wills and trust instruments without an attorney.
The law of supply and demand instructs us that at some point the legal market will reach equilibrium, at which point the legal market will be able to absorb each year's crop of new law school graduates. Unfortunately, no one can predict when this will occur.
All of this leads to (at least) two questions. First, how do we help our currently unemployed and underemployed colleagues as they struggle to find suitable employment? Second, how do we position the Bar Association for potentially reduced membership rolls?
The first question is particularly difficult, as neither the Association nor its members can manufacture demand. Nevertheless, there are some things that can be, and are being, done to help.
First, the Association has taken steps to facilitate the hiring of lawyers. A few years ago, the Association launched its Career Center, available through the Association's website at, where members can post an anonymous resume, view posted openings, and schedule a personal job alert to receive an email when a new opening is posted. As of August 1, 2014, the Career Center had 173 employers registered and 473 resumes posted. Second, members of the Association can meet with unemployed and underemployed lawyers to provide career counseling and advice. The Association's Lawyers Assistance Program, or LAP, is currently doing this. However, these efforts need not be limited to LAP, as all of us can do our part.
Recently, I met with a new member of the Association, a 2013 law school graduate working in the security department of a home improvement chain. He described his frustration at his inability to land a legal position since his graduation. During the course of the conversation I realized he believed I as President would be able to solve his underemployment problem, and so I imagine he was greatly disappointed to learn I had no magic wand to wave. Nevertheless, we discussed the various resources available to him, including the Career Center, together with strategies for networking both within and without the Association. I also attempted to provide some reassurance that he would eventually find legal employment and that prospective employers would not find his inability to find legal employment a reflection on his employability, as law firms are well aware of the difficult legal marketplace.
Third, unemployed and underemployed attorneys can volunteer to participate in the Association's clinics and programs, potentially gaining valuable courtroom experience while helping others.
Turning to the question of what the Association should be doing to take into account the financial impact of potentially reduced membership rolls in the near future, the Association's Board of Directors and Executive Committee, working with the Financial Oversight Committee, will be examining the Association's expenses and ways to increase the Association's reserves so that the Association remains on solid financial footing for future generations. I expect to report on these efforts in the months ahead.

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