The Absolute Worst States for Job-Hunting Law-School Grads

New research shows which corners of the country have the biggest oversupply of young lawyers.

law-graduate-overproduction-by-state-2011.png

Oversupply of law school graduates by state. The darker the shade of red, the worse the surplus. Nevada, Wyoming, and Alaska technically have an under-supply. Current data unavailable for Tennessee. (Source: Law School Tuition Bubble)

By now, even law schools themselves acknowledge that they've been churning out too many graduates for too few available jobs. Less widely appreciated, however, is that the lawyer glut appears to be much more severe in some parts of the country than in others. There's nowhere in the United States that new JD's have it especially good; but, man, are there spots where they have it especially bad.  

That important lesson comes courtesy of attorney Matt Leichter, proprietor of the blog Law School Tuition Bubble, who's done the hard work of calculating which states have the largest oversupply of JD's. Nationwide in 2011 (I know, I wish the data didn't run so far behind too), Leichter finds that law schools graduated roughly two students for every one estimated job opening. But there were some enormous variations. In Mississippi, the ratio was 10.53 to 1. In Michigan, it was 6.48 to 1. In New Jersey, by comparison, it was just 1.04 to 1. 

And yes, even in America's wired up, nationally integrated economy, this is a matter of concern. That's because law is in many ways still a geographically bound profession. Lawyers are required to pass a state bar in order to practice. And for a variety of reasons, professional recruiting tends to be regionalized. There are a few schools -- Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc. -- with a truly national reach. But most programs, even good ones, are lot more like the University of Minnesota Law School. It's a fine, well-regarded institution -- but at least 61 percent of its alums go to work within state.

Of course, some grads are willing to venture cross-country for work. That's why even in the three states that  appear to be producing fewer law grads than law jobs -- Nevada, Wyoming, and Alaska -- Leicther's research suggests the market is probably saturated (you can get into the nitty gritty of it here). That's also why it's also useful to look at these figures by broad region, rather than state to state. When you do, the differences shrink, but they certainly don't disappear.  Here's the breakdown: 

  • New England: 2.99
  • Great Lakes: 2.95
  • Plains: 2.41
  • Mid-Atlantic: 2.04 
  • Southeast: 1.92
  • Far West: 1.91
  • Southwest 1.41
  • Rocky Mountains: 1.31

Now, before I give you the state data, let's talk briefly about how Leichter compiles it (trust me, this is important). The number of grads per state come from the American Bar Association. That's straightforward enough. However, he draws his an annual estimate of legal job openings -- which include entirely new jobs as well as positions that pop up thanks to retirements and departures -- from 10-year projections by state agencies and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means these these figures are, in the end, just estimates. In some respects, they probably veer on side of optimism, as these projections have previously tended to overestimate future job openings. That said, with law school enrollments falling, there's a chance the situation could improve a bit in the coming years. 

Now without further ado...

Google Visualization API Sample

THE LAW GRAD GLUT: Ratio of graduates from ABA approved law schools to the average annual number of job openings between 2010 and 2020, ranked from worst to best. (Source: Law School Tuition Bubble. Note: complete data not available for Tennessee)



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Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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