August 7, 2022

Economix: The Lawyer Surplus, State by State

We’ve written before about the tough job market for recent law-school graduates. The climate is hard partly because of the weak economy, but also partly because the nation’s law schools are churning out many more lawyers than the economy needs even in the long run.

Now a few researchers have tried to quantify exactly how big that surplus is.

The numbers were crunched by Economic Modeling Specialists Inc. (also known as EMSI), a consulting company that focuses on employment data and economic analysis. The company’s calculations were based on the number of people who passed the bar exam in each state in 2009, versus an estimate of annual job openings for lawyers in those states. Estimates for the number of openings is based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau.

According to this model, every state but Wisconsin and Nebraska (plus Washington, D.C.) is producing many more lawyers than it needs. (See table after the jump for full data.)

In fact, across the country, there were twice as many people who passed the bar in 2009 (53,508) as there were openings (26,239). A separate estimate for the number of lawyers produced in 2009 — the number of new law-school graduates, according to the National Center for Education Statistics — also showed a surplus, although it was not quite as large (44,159 new law grads compared with 26,239 openings).

In raw numbers, New York has the greatest legal surplus by far.

In 2009, 9,787 people passed the bar exam in the Empire State. The analysts estimated, though, that New York would need only 2,100 new lawyers each year through 2015. That means that if New York keeps minting new lawyers apace, it will continue having an annual surplus of 7,687 lawyers.

California and New Jersey have the next largest gluts of new lawyers, according to EMSI.

As noted above, not every state is overproducing lawyers. Nebraska and Wisconsin actually have small deficits of lawyers. The place with the biggest shortage is the District of Columbia, which is projected to have 618 new jobs opening annually for lawyers for the next few years, but had only 273 bar-passers in 2009.

Given this shortage, it is perhaps unsurprising that the District of Columbia has the highest median wage for lawyers in the country: $70.96 an hour.

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