The law economy, dashed hopes
for newly admitted lawyers, and the law school paradigm
I am the apostle of the obvious when I
bark about the horrible state of affairs in the law economy in the
commonwealth, where annually 2,500 newly minted lawyers compete for
approximately 720 identifiable, paying jobs. Those new lawyers come
to the commonwealth from nine law schools resident in the
state1 and another seven law schools resident in the
contiguous New England states.2 The math is depressing
for those new lawyers: 16 law schools churn out more than 1,500
graduates who will likely be unemployed and may never have
satisfactory careers as full time practicing lawyers earning a
decent living. An exclamation point was added to this story
recently by a Boston College Law School job board posting. The
posting advertised a full-time associate position as a small Boston
law firm, paying $10,000 per year (i.e., less than the minimum
A recent article published by the ABA Journal quoted
National Association for Law Placement, Inc. Executive Director
James G. Leipold as characterizing the law economy for new lawyers
as "brutal" and "arguably the worst entry-level legal employment
market in more than 30 years."
The same ABA article attributed to Kyle McEntee, executive
director of Law School Transparency, the statement that the
percentage of new graduates with full-time law jobs was at best 50
percent, when law school-funded, part-time and temporary law jobs
were not counted. McEntee said, "Until we know the percentage of
full-time, bar passage-required jobs, it's hard to know how bad the
situation really is."
Again, as reported by the ABA Journal, NALP found a
"dramatic erosion of private practice jobs" with fewer than half of
new law graduates (49.5 percent) taking jobs in private practice.
Apparently, the percentage of new lawyers entering private practice
registered below 50 percent only once in the 38 years that NALP has
tracked placement data for law school graduates.
Few (if any) of the individuals or groups studying this market
phenomenon look at the corollary economic impact on practicing
lawyers and the resultant quality of legal service provided to
clients and the courts. It seems axiomatic, however, that infusion
of new lawyers into a distressed legal economy can only bring
economic hardship to established lawyers and diminished service to
What to do? The Massachusetts Bar Association decided to
evaluate this problem through its Task Force on Law, The Economy,
and Underemployment. Led by Co-chairs Eric Parker and Radha
Natarajan, the task force issued its report entitled, "Beginning
The Conversation," on May 17, 2012. The association's House of
Delegates accepted it at its meeting at the University of
Massachusetts Boston. The Task Force report has since been widely
distributed across the nation and the ABA is now following the
MBA's lead by establishing its own task force to study and report
on this problem from a national perspective.
More than 100 years ago, the founders
of the Massachusetts Bar Association (including such luminaries as
Louis Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.) set as a core mission
of the Association "to police the profession and reform the
law.3" In his opening address, Richard Olney, the first
MBA President, observed that "the most eminent lawyer may often
fail to make himself felt.4" Our job, then, is in part
to police the profession and to make ourselves felt.
That is exactly what we intend to do.
At the next House of Delegates meeting in September 2012, the
following resolutions from the task force will be presented in an
effort to move our profession forward:
Establishing a permanent standing committee (i.e.
"Legal Education and Employment Committee") charged with monitoring
trends in legal education and obstacles to employment in
Massachusetts and developing solutions and recommendations relevant
Designating a formal liaison between the MBA and the
deans of the nine existing Massachusetts law schools charged with
enhancing communications between the MBA and the local law schools
and fostering a greater understanding of their mutual challenges,
efforts and best interests.
Encouraging the ABA to include in its current
questionnaire to law schools a question asking all graduates
employed in the legal field to rank how well their law school
prepared them for the practice of law.
The development and bench-testing of a curriculum and
the administration of a formal "Legal Residency Program", overseen
by the MBA in conjunction with participating beta law
firms, the Board of Bar Overseers, and the Supreme Judicial
The creation of an annual survey to be distributed to
the nine Massachusetts law schools, seeking information specific to
Massachusetts legal employment data and other relevant
The preparation of a questionnaire designed to gauge
employment metrics, to be added to the existing Board of Bar
Overseers license application/renewal questionnaire sent annually
to lawyers admitted to practice in the Commonwealth.
A recommendation to the Board of Bar Examiners and the
Supreme Judicial Court that the bar passage rate in Massachusetts
be calibrated with the average national bar passage
A recommendation to the SJC that Massachusetts limits
reciprocity to those states that provide rules of reciprocity
substantially similar to those of Massachusetts.
The problems produced by a saturated bar are manifold and
manifest. And these problems will not disappear through wishful
thinking. The task force has shown us some pathways to follow.
Let's get going and attack them.
1Boston College, Boston
University, Northeastern, Suffolk, New England, Western New
England, Massachusetts School of Law, UMASS, and
2Vermont, University of
New Hampshire, University of Maine, UCONN, Roger Williams,
Brink, Fiat Justitia: A History of the Massachusetts
Bar Association 1910 -1985, at 1.