Before August Job Report, a Quick Look Back at the Legal Employment Market

This Friday, (ironically) going into the Labor Day weekend, the US government’s job report for August will be released.  For what it’s worth, the early consensus is that the report won’t be good.

I discuss the legal employment market a lot on this blog and, when the August numbers come, I’ll talk about those, too.  Advise-In Solutions is primarily focused on their meaning for entering and current law students, of course, so long-term trends are a little more important to my clients and me than the monthly woof and warp.  The regular occasional data are inputs to those analyses.

In advance of the August report, there’s a very nice recent article in USA Today summarizing aspects of the current market, including the average debt that students incur in law school education.  If you’ve been paying close attention to the market, there won’t be news that’s news to you, but it’s still useful to have summaries of data.  In addition, prospective law school students should check out the regularly-updated job loss data available on the Advise-In website by clicking the link “Law firms are making significant and ongoing lawyer cutbacks.”

More recent news includes some law firms announcing the restoration of larger summer associate programs.  I don’t put too much weight on that, since firms can change (and in recent years, have changed) their minds at the last minute.  The timing of recent announcements seems to me to be as much (or more) an effort to improve public relations and increase applicant pools than a firm indicator or the prospects of the legal market.

Better recent news is a boom in the M&A market, a major driver of legal work.  Whether that’s a temporary blip or the harbinger of a longer-term trend remains to be seen but it’s good news for short-term legal employment (the next year or two, approximately) if the increase proves sustainable.

On the side of worrisome data, of course, is the general US economic picture, upon which increases in legal employment will largely depend, and on which Advise-In’s cautious optimism regarding the medium-term (2013 and 2014) legal hiring markets also depends.  US economic growth in the second quarter remained positive but was not robust.  In addition, there appears to be no political likelihood of additional stimulus.  That matters because the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office recently concluded that the prior stimulus program was a major contributor to recent US economic growth and was also responsible for keeping national unemployment below 10%.  Without the extra help, it’s less clear that growth will continue at all, much less be sufficient to improve the overall condition of the US economy substantially.

If you’re in law school or considering it, stay tuned.  As regular readers of this blog know, in view of the general uncertainty around the legal employment market, I think that prospective law students should be conservative in their assumptions and calculations of the likely benefits of law school education.  If law school is in the cards for you, you should do everything you can to maximize your opportunities, and invest the necessary time, energy and other resources to ensure that your LSAT preparation and application package are first-rate.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on August 30, 2010.

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