Professor Brian Tamanaha of Washington University Law (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi / NLJ)
Is now the ideal time to enroll in law school? Steven Freedman, assistant dean for admissions at the University of Kansas School of Law, has been making the counterintuitive case that it is.
In a series of posts on the law professor blog The Faculty Lounge, he argues that the relatively small number of people set to graduate with J.D.s in 2017 will mean better job prospects for those who do. In short, the supply of new lawyers will be much more closely aligned with the demand for their services than for the Class of 2013.
Last week, the American Bar Association released figures showing that just 57 percent of 2013 grads had found full-time, long-term jobs that required bar passage within nine months of graduation.
“Enroll today or you will miss out on what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Freedman wrote on April 10. “Namely, the chance to graduate from law school in 2017-2018, which will likely be one of the best times ever to graduate from law school.”
Freedman looked at seven years’ worth of data from the Law School Admission Council to estimate that 33,791 students would graduate in 2017—down from an all-time high of 46,478 in 2013.
Next, he used entry-level employment data from the National Association for Law Placement to examine scenarios for the future job market. Assuming no growth in the number of available jobs, there would be nearly as many bar passage-required and JD-advantage jobs in 2018 as there will be law graduates, he found.
If the number of bar passage-required jobs grows by 3 percent per year beginning in 2013, there actually would be more available jobs than law graduates, he concluded.
“The job market for law grads looks very favorable by the time this year’s entering class graduates in 2017,” he wrote.
Freedman is not the first to float this idea. University of Washington School of Law professor Ryan Calo made a similar argument in Forbes in November.
And Theodore Seto, a professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, wrote a blog post in June suggesting demand for legal services would grow along with the U.S. population. “Unless something truly extraordinary has happened to noncyclical demand, a degrees-awarded-per-capita analysis suggests that beginning in fall 2015 and intensifying into 2016 employers are likely to experience an undersupply of law grads, provided that the economic recovery continues,” Seto wrote.
Still, Freedman clearly struck a nerve with readers of The Faculty Lounge, many of whom disputed his findings in the comments section. Some suggested that as a law school administrator Freedman has ulterior motives in encouraging enrollment. Others disputed that the number of jobs for new lawyers would grow.
“I think the conversation has been a bit one-sided these past few years,” Freedman said in an interview. “I’m trying to get people to take notice and focus on the data I’m presenting. I think the data is pretty convincing.”
Count Brian Tamanaha, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law and author of the book “Failing Law Schools,” among the critics.
“If significant numbers of people take your advice and ‘enroll today’ (thinking three years hence the oversupply of law grads will be eliminated by falling enrollment), then the job outlook will worsen as a consequence because the oversupply will not go down as much,” Tamanaha argued on the website. “So your prediction will bear out only if most people thinking about law school do not take your advice.”
Freedman responded that few prospective law students would either see or heed his advice, and would rely instead on “the seemingly unlimited number of misinformed media articles on this topic.”