Too Many Lawyers

by Vault Law Editors | June 27, 2011

According to one recent study, New York has a whole lot of lawyers with not a whole lot of legal stuff to do.

Today, the New York Times reported on a recent study by consulting company Economic Modeling Specialists Inc. (“EMSI”) regarding the surplus of attorneys in the U.S. EMSI researched the number of individuals who passed the bar exam in 2009 and the estimated number of legal job openings through 2015 (pulled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau). The numbers were split up by state and inserted into a chart for an easy comparison of the surpluses or shortages of attorneys across the nation.

The research indicates that New York state has the biggest surplus of attorneys: 9,787 individuals passed the New York bar exam in 2009 alone, and the state only has an estimated 2,100 job openings each year until 2015.

California and New Jersey followed New York as the states with the biggest lawyer surpluses: California had 6,258 bar passers in 2009 versus a yearly estimate of 3,307 job openings each year through 2015; in New Jersey, 3,037 individuals pass the bar in 2009, while the state is estimated to have only 844 job openings for lawyers each year through 2015.

Most of the other states fall in the surplus category. But DC, Nebraska and Wisconsin stand apart with apparent shortages of attorneys based on bar passage rates and job openings. For example, in DC, 273 people passed the bar exam in 2009, and the district is predicted to have 618 job openings each year through 2015. Nebraska and Wisconsin boast much smaller deficits with only a 3-attorney shortage and 14-attorney shortage, respectively.

While this topic is an important addition to the discussion on the current legal job market, which saw the lowest employment rate for last year’s law school grads since 1996, the research overlooks some important factors, which may substantially change the results (that’s not to say there isn’t a surplus of lawyers at the moment but rather these results may not provide the most accurate picture):

1.Many individuals sit for more than one bar exam, which means if they pass all of them, they will be included in the bar passage number for multiple states.

2.Individuals practicing in Washington, DC may waive in to the DC Bar based on passing the bar in another state.

3.Some individuals do not practice in the same state in which they are barred (for example, passing the bar in one state and practicing in DC; working as in-house counsel, which may not require bar passage in the specific state; working in an overseas office of a legal employer, etc.) or may work for a federal entity that has different bar licensure requirements.

4.Individuals who graduate from the University of Wisconsin Law School and Marquette University Law School may become members of the Wisconsin Bar without taking the Wisconsin bar exam.

5.Some bar exam takers may be attorneys who are already barred and employed in another state.

6.The study does not consider the number of JDs who do not pass the bar and/or the MPRE in each state. Some JDs begin working at their legal employers before bar results are released (law firms refer to non-barred JDs as “law clerks” before they are sworn in as attorneys). These individuals, therefore, may secure some of the job openings even though they are not part of the total number of bar passers.

Some of the above factors were raised in the comments to the New York Times article, including a suggestion that EMSI consult attorneys to better understand the bar exam and legal employment pictures. Are there any additional factors that you think the EMSI study should take into account?

New York Times source
Above the Law's Take
Bureau of Labor Statistics source regarding Federal attorneys
New York Law Journal Source regarding in-house counsel
DC Bar source
Wisconsin Bar source

Read More:
Class of 2010 Law Grads Face Dismal Job Prospects
Legal Job Market Down for Fourth Straight Month

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Filed Under: Law


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