Clarification, 7/1/13, 1:30 p.m. EDT: Due to errors in National Conference of Bar Examiners data, the original version of this article reported a higher number of bar admits for Nevada than the State Bar of Nevada reported. The two tables below have been revised to include the correct information, as have statements related to Nevada's ratio of bar admits to job openings. Additionally, for reasons explained more fully in paragraph 7 below, the average annual job openings data may overestimate of the state of Mississippi's law graduate and lawyer surplus. We hope that this clears up any confusion that may have occurred.

In June 2011 both the legal and mainstream media covered Economic Modeling Specialists Inc.'s release of a table showing the attorney surplus in each of the country's 50 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico for 2009. I'd posted a near-identical analysis on my blog three months earlier after comparing the number of graduates from ABA–accredited law schools to the number of lawyer jobs created by growth and replacement in each state in 2009.

While the results of the two analyses were similar, EMSI and I had different purposes in producing them. My goal was only to calculate the surplus of ABA law school graduates over lawyer job openings because my research tends to focus more on the value of legal education and excessive student loan debt, which makes non–ABA and foreign law school graduates less relevant to me. EMSI, on the other hand, was more interested in the lawyer surplus itself.

I'd like to think I did a better job achieving my goal than EMSI did accomplishing what it set out to do. For example, EMSI originally found that both Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., did not suffer from attorney surpluses, but it failed to account for a couple of critical facts: Graduates of Wisconsin's two law schools can petition the bar without taking Wisconsin's bar exam thanks to the state's diploma privilege rule. (As a Marquette grad, I know this from personal experience.) Washington, D.C., for its part, licenses a large percentage of its new lawyers by motion thanks to its generous rules. EMSI also calculated the annual number of lawyer jobs with its proprietary short-term measure of future job openings—a five-year period—while I used the 10-year projections provided by state governments. As a result, the annual lawyer job growth rate EMSI arrived at for some states was as much as 20 percent higher than the state government calculations, which led it to report lower law graduate and lawyer surpluses than I'd found.

Two years later, most state governments have updated both their lawyer employment estimates for 2020 and their projected annual lawyer job growth rate for the period spanning 2010 to 2020, so it's possible to gauge any improvement or deterioration in the annual attorney surplus between the previous 2009 estimate and what is now available for 2011. For purposes of comparison, here are the 2008 and 2010 lawyer counts, the 2018 and 2020 projections, and the annual job growth rates for the periods between 2008 and 2018 and 2010 and 2020. I've included totals for each Bureau of Economic Analysis region as well.

STATE/BEA REGION No. Employed Lawyers Lawyer Employment Projections Annual Lawyer Growth Rate
2008 2010 2018 2020 2008 2010
Alabama 7,910 7,347 8,420 8,390 200 240
Alaska 1,330 993 1,270 1,048 30 20
Arizona 11,880 11,643 12,450 13,911 280 450
Arkansas 3,430 4,546 3,840 5,028 110 130
California 94,900 86,700 100,800 95,100 2,360 2,490
Colorado 14,090 14,158 14,710 14,897 330 340
Connecticut 9,940 9,208 9,930 9,396 190 190
Delaware 2,900 3,037 3,000 3,058 60 60
District of Columbia 42,410 41,669 44,180 48,041 970 1,430
Florida 52,980 54,091 56,820 63,384 1,370 1,960
Georgia 20,900 18,295 24,560 21,731 760 690
Hawaii 2,970 2,261 2,950 2,404 60 60
Idaho 2,710 2,621 3,080 2,812 90 70
Illinois 38,080 32,868 42,290 36,334 1,130 970
Indiana 9,740 9,249 11,310 10,191 340 270
Iowa 4,340 4,467 4,910 4,952 140 130
Kansas 5,210 5,059 5,940 5,528 170 140
Kentucky 6,510 6,860 7,070 7,460 180 190
Louisiana 10,770 9,301 11,270 10,249 250 270
Maine 2,800 2,811 2,800 3,007 50 70
Maryland 14,300 13,988 13,570 15,350 270 400
Massachusetts 21,600 21,114 21,900 24,093 430 700
Michigan 19,030 14,790 20,210 15,180 470 320
Minnesota 15,290 12,058 16,160 12,935 370 320
Mississippi 5,260 3,770 5,740 4,109 150 30
Missouri 11,520 12,434 11,410 14,441 220 440
Montana 1,870 2,550 2,070 2,717 60 70
Nebraska 3,400 3,254 3,750 3,366 100 70
Nevada 4,840 5,428 5,690 5,707 150 130
New Hampshire 2,350 2,439 2,400 2,571 50 60
New Jersey 28,650 26,165 28,650 28,688 540 750
New Mexico 3,550 3,019 3,580 3,116 70 70
New York 86,140 66,695 87,080 70,079 1,700 1,610
North Carolina 14,310 13,653 16,170 15,630 450 460
North Dakota 1,240 1,316 1,300 1,447 30 40
Ohio 19,860 20,198 20,750 21,817 460 550
Oklahoma 8,100 8,866 8,680 9,883 210 270
Oregon 4,980 5,049 5,610 5,800 160 180
Pennsylvania 28,400 27,953 29,400 30,067 640 740
Puerto Rico 4,180 3,949 4,350 4,178 100 100
Rhode Island 2,710 2,401 2,980 2,517 80 60
South Carolina 6,640 6,703 7,260 7,371 190 200
South Dakota N/A 1,520 N/A 1,611 N/A 40
Tennessee 8,720 N/A 9,160 N/A 210 N/A
Texas 44,680 44,329 51,360 52,215 1,500 1,630
Utah 7,080 5,398 8,580 6,456 280 210
Vermont 2,070 1,997 2,270 2,111 60 50
Virginia 19,780 19,391 23,390 23,275 730 760
Washington 14,840 14,231 16,320 16,003 440 460
West Virginia 2,940 3,062 2,970 3,258 60 80
Wisconsin 10,390 9,709 10,230 10,403 190 250
Wyoming 940 757 1,040 864 30 80
U.S.A. (States) 765,460 705,370 815,630 784,179 19,470 21,300
U.S.A. (BLS) 759,200 728,200 857,700 801,800 24,040 21,200
New England 41,470 39,970 42,280 43,695 860 1,130
Mideast 202,800 179,507 205,880 195,283 4,180 4,990
Great Lakes 97,100 86,814 104,790 93,925 2,590 2,360
Plains 41,000 40,108 43,470 44,280 1,030 1,180
Southeast 160,150 147,019 176,670 169,885 4,660 5,010
Southwest 68,210 67,857 76,070 79,125 2,060 2,420
Rocky Mountains 26,690 25,484 29,480 27,746 790 770
Far West 123,860 114,662 132,640 126,062 3,200 3,340



For the 2008 to 2018 period, the BLS estimated that 24,040 new lawyer jobs would open each year, but the combined estimate produced by state governments totaled only 19,470 jobs per year. The 2010 to 2020 projections for both the federal and state governments have now converged to slightly more than 21,000. The net 2,000 annual job increase per year in the combined state government estimate is distributed among the 29 states for which data were available in both years. However, nearly all of that job growth is confined to a handful of locales: D.C. (460), Florida (590), Massachusetts (270), Missouri (220), and New Jersey (210) account for nearly 90 percent of the net increase in projected annual job openings.

Repeating the process I used two years ago to determine the annual surplus of ABA law school graduates to job openings by state can be accomplished by using graduate data from the ABA–LSAC Official Guide to the ABA Law Schools. To build upon EMSI's approach to finding the annual lawyer surplus, I've combined the number of lawyers admitted by examination, motion, and diploma privilege in 2011 based on data from the National Conference of Bar Examiners. Although there's certainly some overlap of people being admitted to multiple jurisdictions at the same time, calculating the surplus this way at least includes lawyers admitted on motion, without taking a bar exam, or who graduated from non–ABA and foreign law schools.

STATE/BEA REGION No. ABA Law School Graduates No. Bar Admits Ratio ABA Grads to Annual Lawyer Jobs Ratio Bar Admits to Annual Lawyer Jobs
2009 2011 2009 2011 2009 2011 2009 2011
Alabama 405 416 522 548 2.03 1.73 2.61 2.28
Alaska 0 0 93 106 0.00 0.00 3.10 5.30
Arizona 378 490 418 689 1.35 1.09 1.49 1.53
Arkansas 249 269 278 307 2.26 2.07 2.53 2.36
California 4,688 4,964 6,766 6,627 1.99 1.99 2.87 2.66
Colorado 518 462 1,055 1,256 1.57 1.36 3.20 3.69
Connecticut 531 526 841 559 2.79 2.77 4.43 2.94
Delaware 237 252 154 122 3.95 4.20 2.57 2.03
District of Columbia 2,129 2,116 4,082 3,164 2.19 1.48 4.21 2.21
Florida 2,787 2,998 2,990 3,646 2.03 1.53 2.18 1.86
Georgia 896 896 1,112 1,288 1.18 1.30 1.46 1.87
Hawaii 88 101 176 208 1.47 1.68 2.93 3.47
Idaho 93 104 249 210 1.03 1.49 2.77 3.00
Illinois 2,166 2,183 3,085 2,928 1.92 2.25 2.73 3.02
Indiana 828 818 666 643 2.44 3.03 1.96 2.38
Iowa 341 342 351 431 2.44 2.63 2.51 3.32
Kansas 297 309 470 395 1.75 2.21 2.76 2.82
Kentucky 385 455 533 645 2.14 2.39 2.96 3.39
Louisiana 811 797 723 744 3.24 2.95 2.89 2.76
Maine 93 90 166 163 1.86 1.29 3.32 2.33
Maryland 548 594 1,373 1,653 2.03 1.49 5.09 4.13
Massachusetts 2,316 2,288 2,328 2,416 5.39 3.27 5.41 3.45
Michigan 2,016 2,072 1,099 1,099 4.29 6.48 2.34 3.43
Minnesota 962 887 1,034 923 2.60 2.77 2.79 2.88
Mississippi 347 316 281 284 2.31 10.53 1.87 9.47
Missouri 898 890 1,062 965 4.08 2.02 4.83 2.19
Montana 77 84 153 192 1.28 1.20 2.55 2.74
Nebraska 280 283 112 245 2.80 4.04 1.12 3.50
Nevada* 140 128 392 351 0.93 0.98 2.61 2.70
New Hampshire 144 147 300 296 2.88 2.45 6.00 4.93
New Jersey 791 783 2,691 2,844 1.46 1.04 4.98 3.79
New Mexico 112 106 278 287 1.60 1.51 3.97 4.10
New York 4,776 4,703 10,194 9,855 2.81 2.92 6.00 6.12
North Carolina 1,055 1,123 1,140 1,101 2.34 2.44 2.53 2.39
North Dakota 83 81 115 195 2.77 2.03 3.83 4.88
Ohio 1,495 1,411 1,117 1,324 3.25 2.57 2.43 2.41
Oklahoma 494 462 450 465 2.35 1.71 2.14 1.72
Oregon 531 537 682 795 3.32 2.98 4.26 4.42
Pennsylvania 1,715 1,739 1,666 2,404 2.68 2.35 2.60 3.25
Puerto Rico 554 678 506 557 5.54 6.78 5.06 5.57
Rhode Island 184 158 209 185 2.30 2.63 2.61 3.08
South Carolina 405 418 475 508 2.13 2.09 2.50 2.54
South Dakota 73 55 115 96 N/A 1.38 N/A 2.40
Tennessee 445 472 903 821 2.12 N/A 4.30 N/A
Texas 2,337 2,343 3,395 3,476 1.56 1.44 2.26 2.13
Utah 281 285 458 606 1.00 1.36 1.64 2.89
Vermont 191 175 74 109 3.18 3.50 1.23 2.18
Virginia 1,429 1,350 1,430 1,452 1.96 1.78 1.96 1.91
Washington 694 657 1,090 1,148 1.58 1.43 2.48 2.50
West Virginia 149 125 254 307 2.48 1.56 4.23 3.84
Wisconsin 487 484 855 920 2.56 1.94 4.50 3.68
Wyoming 71 73 151 112 2.37 0.91 5.03 1.40
U.S.A. (States) 44,000 44,495 61,112 62,670 2.26 2.09 3.14 2.94
U.S.A. (BLS) 1.83 2.10 2.54 2.96
New England 3,459 3,384 3,918 3,728 4.02 2.99 4.56 3.30
Mideast 10,196 10,187 20,160 20,042 2.44 2.04 4.82 4.02
Great Lakes 6,992 6,968 6,822 6,914 2.70 2.95 2.63 2.93
Plains 2,934 2,847 3,259 3,250 2.85 2.41 3.16 2.75
Southeast 9,363 9,635 10,641 11,651 2.01 1.92 2.28 2.33
Southwest 3,321 3,401 4,541 4,917 1.61 1.41 2.20 2.03
Rocky Mountains 1,040 1,008 2,066 2,376 1.32 1.31 2.62 3.09
Far West 6,141 6,387 9,199 9,235 1.92 1.91 2.87 2.76



*The NCBEX's number of bar admits for Nevada in 2011 is erroneous. According to the State Bar of Nevada's Annual Report [PDF], there were 351 bar admits. The number reported to the NCBEX is the number of bar exam takers in 2011.

Overall, both the number of ABA graduates and the number of law licenses distributed increased slightly between 2009 and 2011. However, that growth did not offset the decline in the BLS's lawyer projection, so in 2011 there were more than two ABA law school graduates and three new lawyers for every job opening in the United States. At the same time, as measured by state labor departments, the ABA graduate and lawyer surpluses declined because the cumulative annual job growth rate rose, and they are now nearly identical to the national annual graduate and lawyer surpluses.

For individual states, only Wyoming (0.91) and Nevada (0.98) posted ABA graduate deficits relative to annual job openings, but these states too were swamped with newly admitted lawyers in 2011, 1.40 and 2.70 lawyers per job respectively. Mississippi's very high surplus appears to be caused by its poor annual jobs outlook. On further inspection, though, 30 lawyer jobs per year is very likely too low because over ten years, the number of new lawyer positions created by growth and replacement (30 jobs per year x 10 years = 300) is less than the difference between the number of projected employed lawyers in 2020 less the estimated number of employed lawyers in 2010 (4,109 (2020) – 3,770 (2010) = 339). It's extremely unlikely that Mississippi's lawyer replacement rate is zero or negative when it's projecting a decade of growth. Puerto Rico, which I wrote about recently, has at least five attorneys and even more ABA graduates for each new job opening.

I should add that none of these calculations includes underemployed lawyers who wish to return to practice, nor should these attorney surplus calculations be confused with the ratio of applicants per job opening. State government websites also occasionally refer to law as a "high-growth" occupation, but as the attorney surplus demonstrates, high job growth rates can still be dwarfed by the number of people eligible to work in them.

As to the accuracy of the BLS's national projections, they have almost always proven more optimistic than the reality in the past. Thanks to information found in archived issues of the Monthly Labor Review, here's an evaluation of past projections.



Since the 1990s, the BLS has usually overstated the estimated number of lawyers that will be employed 10 years hence. The only time it made a mistake in the other direction was in 1996, when it predicted there would be 740,000 lawyers in 2006 rather than the actual number, 761,000. Given how badly mismanaged the economy has been over the last 15 years or so, it's unlikely that any of the bureau's post–2012 predictions will be met, especially the 845,000 projection currently on the books for 2014.

There is some good news in places like Florida, D.C., and Massachusetts, where the projected number of lawyer job openings rose relative to the number of graduates and lawyers there. That said, with 28 states reporting an increase in the number of lawyers relative to job openings compared to two years ago and downward revisions to the projected number of employed lawyers as of 2020, the situation still looks bad for those interested in entering the profession.

Matt Leichter is a writer and attorney who holds a master's degree in International Affairs from Marquette University. He operates The Law School Tuition Bubble, which archives, chronicles, and analyzes the deteriorating American legal education system. It is also a platform for higher education and student debt reform.