What's New About the New Normal: The Evolving Market for New Lawyers in the 21st Century

Bernard A. Burk

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - School of Law

December 30, 2013

UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2309497

Everyone agrees that job prospects for many new law graduates have been poor for the last several years; there is rather less consensus on whether, when, how or why that may change. This article analyzes historical and current trends in the job market for new lawyers in an effort to predict how that market may evolve.

The article derives quantitative measurements of the proportion of law graduates over the last thirty years who have obtained initial employment for which law school serves as rational substantive preparation (“Law Jobs”). In comparing entry-level hiring patterns since 2008 with those in earlier periods, a significant development emerges: While other sectors of the market for new lawyers have changed only modestly during the Great Recession, one sector — the larger private law firms colloquially known as “BigLaw” — has contracted six times as much as all the others. Though BigLaw hiring has historically accounted for only 10%-20% of each graduating class, it is responsible for over half the entry-level Law Jobs lost since 2008.

While some observers predict a return to business as usual as the economy recovers, this article is skeptical of that account. The article identifies significant structural changes in the way that the services traditionally provided by BigLaw are being produced, staffed and priced that diminish BigLaw’s need for junior lawyers both immediately and in the longer term. These observations suggest that entry-level BigLaw hiring, and thus the market for new lawyers overall, will remain depressed below pre-recession levels well after demand for the services BigLaw has traditionally provided recovers. At the same time, new lawyers’ job prospects may nevertheless improve as the contraction in the legal academy now underway reduces the number of new graduates competing for work.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 65

Keywords: legal profession, legal education, empirical

JEL Classification: D12, D21, D23, D33, D40, D50, I21, I22, J21, J23, J44, L84, M21, M51

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Date posted: August 13, 2013 ; Last revised: January 20, 2014

Suggested Citation

Burk, Bernard A., What's New About the New Normal: The Evolving Market for New Lawyers in the 21st Century (December 30, 2013). UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2309497. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2309497 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2309497

Contact Information

Bernard A. Burk (Contact Author)
University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - School of Law ( email )
Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
919-962-3688 (Phone)
919-962-1270 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://law.unc.edu

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