So You Want to be a Lawyer

On 01/27/2010, in Economics, Formal Education, by Jordan Wilson

The New York Times has a depressing tale for students considering a legal career in the United States.

While prospects seem bleak now, just a couple of years ago the profession had great potential. Why the shift?  

Part of the problem, obviously, was the economic downturn in the US. But I also think that basic economics played a big role.

The New York Times writes of “2007, that halcyon era of $160,000 starting salaries and full employment even for law grads who had scored in the 150s on their LSAT’s.” How “lawyers who entered the field as recently as a few years ago could reasonably expect a life of comfort, security and social esteem.”

Students and individuals already in the workforce saw the excellent compensation and abundantly available jobs in law. This led to more people enrolling in law programs, causing an increased supply of lawyers in the market. Had the economy remained stable or even grown slightly, there still would have been an adjustment in compensation and jobs as supply and demand tried to find a balance. In actuality, the economy faltered and this put even more pressure on the industry. As supply and demand tried to equalize, compensation and open positions fell.

The lesson from this?

If you want to be a lawyer, take a few economics classes first.

From the time you enrol until graduation, it may be 3 or more years away. A lot can change in any industry over that time period. Not just law.

When evaluating your future career, consider professions that are trending upward in demand, rather than looking at current or past performance. Determine where demand is growing and where supply is limited. When demand for your services exceeds the available talent, compensation and opportunities will be exist. The greater the imbalance, the better the prospects.

Still want to become a lawyer?

Take some comfort from economics as well.

As students read articles like the one cited above, interest in the profession should wane. This means less law graduates over time. At some point, largely predicated on a recovering economy, demand for new lawyers will surpass the number of graduates. Jobs will be available and compensation will again rise to attract talent.

If you enter a law faculty in the next couple of years, the cycle may reverse by graduation and opportunities abound.

If you are already studying law, remember that even in bad times, there are still positions available. You just have more competition for them. Getting good grades helps, but not everyone can graduate at the top of the class. Consider developing skills and experience in the areas that you want to practice. If you want to work in Family Law, considering volunteering at a women’s shelter or children’s organization. If you want to be a Criminal Lawyer, volunteer at the local correctional center. There are many ways that you can add some practical skills to offset any academic weaknesses in order to land a job.

Final Thoughts

If you want the view of a US lawyer on going to law school, read this post from Concurring Opinions.

As for Canada, information on growth in the legal profession is lacking. Government of Canada data is quite rosy, but their estimates were made in 2007. The “halcyon” days according to the New York Times. From what I have read, Canadian prospects have diminished but it is not as bad as in the US.

I would be interested in any thoughts from readers.

If you do want some information on a legal career in Canada, I suggest you visit the Official Guide to Canadian Law Schools. There is some good information aggregated there.

Good luck!

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