Recent law school graduates – especially those still casting about for gainful employment while wallowing in tuition debt – feel just how tough the legal job market has become, in a drastic change from the days when recruiters abounded and snack rooms were well-stocked.
The chasm between lawyer supply and demand has been roughly quantified. The consulting company Economic Modeling Specialists Inc. compared the number of people who passed the bar in 2009 to an estimate of yearly job openings for lawyers that same year. Their analysis breaks down data by state and reveals that New York has the largest surplus of lawyers, or more than 7,500 in 2009. California, the next-up state in lawyer surplus, had about 3,000 in excess, whereas it seems that Nebraska, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia have lawyer deficits.
The analysis notes that Wisconsin and D.C. are exceptional cases: Wisconsin law school graduates do not have to take the bar in order to practice there, and in D.C., already licensed lawyers can be waived into membership, which is why so few take the bar in the nation’s capital. All this goes to show that even in these two places, what seems to be a deficit might actually be a surplus, since the number who pass the bar exam underestimates the actual supply of lawyers.
Moreover, the data is a rough estimate of the actual difference between the number of job openings and wannabe lawyers because not all those who pass the bar in a certain state will practice there. And many law school graduates wait a few years after graduating to take the test, whereas others take it multiple times before passing. But even on a national level, the numbers paint a stark picture: in 2009, the number of law graduates who passed the bar exam was about double that of the number of job openings across the country, according to the analysis.