2014 Job Market Update: Not Getting Better or Worse

by Alex Anastasio

New data shows that the job market for law grads has not improved to pre-Recession levels, but it is no longer contracting. Employment prospects have been hampered by a glut of new graduates. In a country where there are roughly twice as many law graduates as there are job openings, many graduates have been left unemployed or in part-time work.

However, the ratio of graduates to available jobs varies depending on at which state you look. Some states, such as Vermont and Massachusetts, produce vastly more graduates than they have job openings. Other states, such as Nevada or Utah, appear to have a far less dire situation, with roughly as many graduates as they have job openings. Alaska, which does not have a law school and imports all of its lawyers, is another state in which there is less of a glut. Connecticut, with roughly 2.7 law graduates for every job opening, is roughly the 10th most glutted legal market in the country.

In this market, many law graduates have turned to part-time work. The rate of lawyers who resort to this has exploded over the past few years, with an enormous growth in part-time work in several New England states.

The legal market may also be changing on more fundamental levels. According to some analysts, growth in the largest law firms may continue to stagnate, with more innovation being driven by smaller, specialist law firms. While the biggest law firms do continue to grow, their growth rate has slowed, and their expansion is often fueled more by lateral hires than law school hires.

The demand for legal services contracted slightly during 2013, but there was some growth in areas like real estate and employment law. The recession also has encouraged many companies to reduce expenses by bringing more legal services in-house, a move that may hurt law firms but makes in-house legal work a bright spot for legal hiring.

The state of the legal job market may be causing a drop in applicants to law schools nationwide. Several law schools have slashed the size of their incoming 1L classes, and some have lowered tuition in an effort to attract increasingly cautious applicants.