Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What is more important for lawyers: where you go to law school or what you learned? (Part II)

If you're trying to maximize the financial value of an undergraduate degree, it is better to bet on course of study than college prestige.  Indeed, prestige is largely irrelevant to those who major in engineering, computer science, or math.  In contrast, prestige does matter for art & humanities grads, albeit the financial returns are significantly lower than their tech counterparts.  

These are some of the takeaways from Part I of this blog post. Part I also presented data showing that law is a mix of both: financial returns have been high (cf. "red" tech majors) and prestige matters (cf. "blue" arts & humanities crowd).  

The goal of Part II is to address the question of whether the pattern of high earnings/prestige sensitivity will change in the future. I think the answer to this question is yes, albeit most readers would agree that if law will change is a less interesting and important question than how it will change.  Speed of change is also relevant because, as humans, we want to know if the change is going to affect us or just the next generation of lawyers.

Shifts in the Legal Market

There are a lot of changes occurring in the legal market, and those changes are altering historical patterns of how legal services are being sold and delivered to clients. In the past, I have thrown around the term structural change, yet not with any clear definition.  To advance the conversation, I need to correct that lack of precision. 

In economics, there is a literature on structural change as applied to national or regional economies (e.g. moving from a developing nation to an industrial nation; or moving from an industrial to a knowledge-based economy).  Investors also focus on structural change within a specific industry because, obviously, large changes can affect investor returns.  When I have used the term structural change on this blog, it has been much closer to investor conceptions.  Investopedia offers a useful definition even if it's somewhat colloquial: 

Definition of 'structural change': An economic condition that occurs when an industry or market changes how it functions or operates. A structural change will shift the parameters of an entity, which can be represented by significant changes in time series data.

Under this definition, the legal industry is certainly undergoing structural change.  The proportion of law graduates getting a job in private practice has been on the decline for 30 years; over the last 35 years, the average age of the licensed lawyer has climbed from 39 to 49 despite record numbers of new law school graduates; the proportion of associates to partners has plummeted since the late 1980s.  See Is the Legal Profession Showing its Age? LWB, October 12, 2014.  Since the early 2000s, long before the great recession, associate-level hiring has been cut in half. See Sea Change in the Legal Market, NALP Bulletin, August 2013.

Likewise, among consumers of legal services, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that lower and middle class citizens can't afford a lawyer to solve life's most basic legal problems, thus leading to a glut of pro se litigants in state courts and many more who simply go without things like contracts and wills.  This troubling trend line was obscured by a boom in corporate legal practice, albeit now even rich corporations have become more sensitive to legal costs -- the sheer volume and complexity of legal need is outstripping their budgets.  In response to the lag in lawyer productivity and innovation, there is a ton of investor-backed enterprises that are now elbowing their way into the legal industry.  See A Counterpoint to "the most robust legal market that ever existed in this country"LWB, March 17, 2014.  

The impact of all this change -- structural or otherwise -- is now being felt by law schools. Applicants are down to levels not seen since the 1970s, yet we have dozens more law schools. It has been said by many that law schools are losing money, albeit we have zero data to quantify the problem.  Based on my knowledge of my own law school and several others I am close to, I am comfortable saying that we have real changes afoot that affect how the legal education market "functions or operates."

There is a sense among many lawyers and legal academics that the legal world changed after 2008. None of the "structural" changes I cite above are pegged in any way to the events of that year.  

What did change in 2008, however, was the national conversation on the legal industry, partially due to the news coverage of the mass law firm layoffs, partially due to important books by Richard Susskind and later Brian Tamanaha and Steve Harper, and partially due to a robust blogosphere.  This change in conversation emboldened corporate legal departments to aggressively use their new found market power with "worthless" young associates becoming the biggest casualty. This new conversation in turn exposed some of the risks of attending law school, which affected law school demand.  But alas, this was all fallout from deeper shifts in the market that were building for decades. Let's not blame the messengers.

Dimensions of Change

I am confident that the future of law is going to be a lot different than its past. But I want to make sure I break these changes into more discrete, digestible parts because (a) multiple stakeholders are affected, and (b) the drivers of change are coming from multiple directions.

Dimension 1: basic supply and demand for legal education

To unpack my point regarding multiple dimensions, let's start with legal education. Some of the challenges facing law schools today are entirely within the four corners of our own house.  Yet, legal education also has challenges (and opportunities) that arise from our connection to the broader legal industry.  This can be illustrated by looking at the relationship between the cost of legal education (which law schools control, although we may blame US News or the ABA) and entry level salaries (which are driven largely by the vagaries of a client-driven market).  

The chart below looks at these factors.  My proxy for cost is average student debt (public and private law schools) supplied by the ABA.  My income variables are median entry level salaries from NALP for law firm jobs and all entry level jobs.  2002 is the first year where I have all the requisite data.  But here is my twist:  I plot debt against entry-level salary based on percentage change since 2002.  

Debtversusincome-2002

If a business nearly doubles its price during the same period when customer income is flat, demand is going to fall.  Thus, the sluggish entry-level market presents a difficult problem for legal education.  Sure, we can point to the favorable statistics from the AJD or the premium that a JD has historically conferred on lifetime earnings, but law professors are not the people who are signing the loan papers.  The chart above documents a changing risk/reward tradeoff.  To use the frame of Part I, the red dots are sinking into the blue dot territory, or at least that is the way prospective students are likely to view things.

Fortunately, smaller law school classes are going to be a partial corrective to low entry-level salaries.  The biggest law school class on record entered in the fall of 2010 (52,488); in 2014, the entering class had shrunk by over 27% (37,942). When entry-level supply is reduced by 25+%, upward pressure on salaries will build.  Yet, the composition of the legal economy and the nature of legal work is clearly changing.  Further, the rate of absorption of law school graduates into the licensed bar has been slowing for decades.  See Is the Legal Profession Showing its Age? LWB, October 12, 2014. It would be foolhardy to believe that time and fiscal austerity alone are going to solve our business problems. Instead, we need to better understand our role as suppliers to a labor market.

Dimension 2:  The content of legal education

The content of legal education is not necessarily fixed or static.  We could change the content, thus affecting how the market responds.  

To provide a simple example, one of my students is starting work this fall at Kirkland & Ellis.  From a financial perspective, this is a good employment outcome.  He will be moving to Chicago with his girlfriend who just received her MS in Information Systems from IU's Kelley School of Business.  The MS from Kelley is a very "red" degree.  It can also be completed in one year (30 credit hours).  Well before she graduated, this recent grad had competing offers from PWC and Deloitte, both in the $80,000 range.   For many Indiana Law students, an ideal post-grad outcome would be $80K in Chicago at an employer who provides challenging work and high-quality training.  Yet, my student's girlfriend got this ideal outcome in 1/3 the time and likely 1/2 the cost of an Indiana Law grad.  

Perhaps we should consider cross-pollinating these disciplines. A huge portion of the legal profession's economic challenges is attributable to flat lawyer productivity -- customers are struggling to pay for solutions to their legal needs.  Information systems are a huge part law's productivity puzzle.  Below is a chart I use in many of my presentations on the legal industry.  The chart summarizes the emerging legal ecosystem by plotting the Heinz-Laumann two-hemisphere model against Richard Susskind's bespoke-to-commodity continuum. [Click-on to enlarge.]

Ecosystem

The key takeaway from this diagram is that the largest area of growth is going to be in the multidisciplinary green zone -- the legally trained working shoulder-to-shoulder with those skilled in information systems, statistics, software development, and computational linguistics, to name but a few.  These are "red" disciplines.  Do law schools want to be part of this movement?  Let me ask this another way -- do law schools want to be relevant to the bulk of the legal market that needs to be rationalized in order to maintain its affordability? Harvard grads will have options on Wall Street for the foreseeable future.  But 98% of law schools operate in a different market.  Further, some HLS grads, or students who might qualify for admission to Harvard, might prefer the big upside rewards that are only available in the green zone.  In short, a new hierarchy is emerging in law that is still very much up for grabs.

If an academic wants to better understand the rapidly changing nature of legal work, I would urge them to visit a large legal department with a substantial legal operations ("legal ops") staff.  These are the professionals who have been empowered by general counsel to find ways to drive up quality and drive down cost using data, process, and technology.  These are the folks who are making build-versus-buy decisions, putting pressure on law firms to innovate in order to hang on to legal work, and experimenting with NewLaw legal vendors. 

I am finishing up a story on legal ops professionals for the ABA Journal.  (By the way, legal ops exist in law firms as well as legal departments and green zone legal vendors. The role is most developed, however, in legal departments.)  My editor flagged the issue that virtually all of the legal ops people in the story did not graduate from prestigious law schools (or any law school).

My only response is that legal operations people have specialized skills and knowledge (often "red" but sometimes involving EQ) that others lack; without these skills, they can't do the job.  Legal ops people live in a world of outputs and metrics.  For example, are legal expenses and settlement amounts trending down over time -- yes or no? If so, by how much?  How much internal staff time does it take to negotiate a revenue contract? How much of this process can be automated? What will it take to get our staff to accept the new system?

As these examples show, a legal ops person is typically going to be evaluated based on measurable outputs -- do they get results? Where someone went to law school is an input that is likely irrelevant to the question.  The only qualifier is whether the curriculum of that school provided valuable, specialized domain knowledge -- most likely non-legal red skills but also skills related to teams, communication, and collaboration. 

Dimension 3:  The value of pedigree to the customer 

Law has historically been what economists call a “credence good.”  This means that a layperson has a difficult time assessing quality.  As a result, proxies for quality, such as pedigree or prestige, have historically been very important when hiring a lawyer or law firm.  

One of the reasons that the field of legal operations is gaining momentum is because it is creating tools and systems that enable clients to look past credentials to obtain information on things they really care about, such as cost, outcome, and speed of delivery. There are now companies coming into existence that are gathering data on lawyers' win-loss rates. See Another Example of Using Big Data to Improve Odds of Winning in Court, LWB, April 12, 2015.  Sure, apples-to-apples comparisons are very difficult to make -- every case is unique in some respect. But the amount of money at stake is large enough that the data challenges will be surmounted.  When that day arrives, we won't opine on the value of pedigree to legal outcomes; we'll just calculate it. More significantly, clients focused on outcomes will change their buying patterns.  Early returns I have seen suggest that the value of pedigree to legal outcomes may be close to negligible.

Do any of us care where the engineers who designed our smart phones went to college? Not really. We just care how well the smart phone works. 

In this respect, the future of law is likely headed in the direction of Google (a pure red company).  In the early days, the founders of Google favored grads of Caltech, Stanford and Berkeley.  But over time, the company learned that prestige of graduate school was a poor predictor of job success. Because Google lives and dies by its outputs, the company changed its hiring model to attract the most qualified engineers.  See George Anders, The Rare Find: How Great Talent Stand Out 1-5 (2012) (telling the story of how data changed the attitudes of Google founders regarding elite credentials and altered the Google hiring model).

I have lived long enough to know that the changes I describe above are not necessarily going to be welcomed by many lawyers and law professors.  If a group benefits from a lifelong presumption of merit, it is natural that group will resist evidence that the presumption is not fully warranted. Indeed, much of the skepticism will be rooted in subconscious emotion.  If the presumption is dashed, those of us in the elite crowd will have to spend our days competing with others and proving ourselves, or even worse, watching our kids soldier through it.  We have little to gain and a lot to lose in the world we are heading into.  Yet, behind the Rawls veil of ignorance, how can we complain?

So with the red-blue crosscurrents, is law school still worth the investment?

That is a relevant and reasonable question that many young people are contemplating.  I will offer my opinion, but markets are bound to follow their own logic. 

This is a time of enormous uncertainty for young people. Education clearly opens doors, but tuition is going up much faster than earnings.  Further, competition among knowledge workers is becoming more global, which is a check on wages.  Of course, if you don't invest in education, what are your options?

I am generally on the side of Michael Simkovic and Frank McIntrye that the education provided by a law degree, on average, significantly increases lifetime earnings.  See The Economic Value of a Law Degree (April 2013).  How could it not?  The law is too interconnected to every facet of society to not, on average, enhance the law grad's critical thinking skills. Nearly 15 years of out of law school and I regularly use what I learned at Chicago Law to solve problems and communicate solutions, particularly in my applied research work with law firms and legal departments. While my Chicago Law credential has value independent of the skills and knowledge I obtained (the red AJD bar chart in Part I strongly suggests that), I can't deny the additional value of the actual skills and knowledge I obtained to solve real world business problems. It's been substantial.

In general, I also agree with Deborah Jones Merritt that there is significant evidence that the entry-level market for lawyers is weak and oversaturated.  See What Happened to the Class of 2010? Empirical Evidence of Structural Change in the Legal Profession (April 2015).   The class of 2010 is not faring as well as the class of 2000.  Indeed, the lead economist for Payscale, Katie Bardaro, recently noted that wages are stagnating in many fields, but especially in the legal profession. "More law schools are graduating people than there are jobs for them...There’s an over-saturated labor market right now. That works to drive down the pay rate.” See Susan Adams, The Law Schools Whose Grads Earn the Biggest Paychecks in 2014, Forbes, Mar. 14, 2014. 

In the face of these stiff headwinds, I think law schools have an opportunity to pack more value into three years of education. See Dimension 2 above.  To be more specific, if you are a protege of Dan Katz at Chicago-Kent, you will have a lot of career options. Ron Staudt, also at Chicago-Kent, has quietly built a pipeline into the  law and technology space.  Oliver Goodenough and his colleague at Vermont Law are making rapid progress with a tech law curriculum.  And at Georgetown Law, Tanina Rostain and Ed Walters (CEO of Fastcase) provide courses that are cutting edge.  

But absent these types of future-oriented instruction, what is the value of a JD degree as it is commonly taught today? That value is clearly positive; I would even call it high.  But whether the value is sufficient to cover the cost of attendance is likely to vary from law grad to law grad.  Lord knows, in a world of variable tuition based on merit scholarships and merit scholarships that go away after the 1L year, the swing in cost can be a $250K plus interest.

What is killing law school applications these days is the lack of near certainty among prospective students that the time and expense of law school will pay off.  The world looks different than it did in the fall of 1997 when the vast majority of the AJD respondents entered law school. Tuition and debt loads are higher and high paying entry-level jobs are harder to obtain.

So what is the solution?  For students, it's to bargain shop for law schools, which is bad news for law schools.  For law schools, it's to add more value to an already valuable degree.  Some of that value will come in the form of red technical skills that will make lawyers more productive.  In turn, this will prime demand for more legal products and services.

July 22, 2015 in Blog posts worth reading, Data on legal education, Data on the profession, Legal Departments, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

What is more important for lawyers: where you go to law school or what you learned? (Part I)

The Economist reports a very interesting analysis from Payscale.  The questions being asked are pretty simple: If you want to generate earnings that justify the time and cost of an undergraduate education, what should you study and where should you enroll?

Lots of people have strong opinions on this set of questions, but Payscale has the data to answer them empirically. It turns out that at the undergraduates level, course of study is much more important than the prestige of the college or university you attend.  The hard evidence is shown below.

Payscalegraphic

For those working in law or thinking about attending law school, a natural question to ask is whether the legal industry is closer to the blue dot (art & humanities) or red dot pattern (engineering/CS/math).  A second, related question whether the future of law is more blue or more red.

This a two-part blog post.  Part I tries to answer the first question, starting with a careful analysis of the undergraduate chart, which provides a valuable frame of reference that can be discussed more dispassionately (at least among lawyers and law students) than an analysis that questions the value of law school prestige and hierarchy.  

Part II, which I will post on Wednesday, explores the second, future-oriented question.  I will tip my hand now and say that the future of law will be less blue (arts & humanity) and more red (math/CS/engineering).  Within the legal industry, there will be winners and losers; but from the perspective of broader society, this change is a very good thing. 

Undergraduate ROI

In the Payscale chart above, the y-axis (vertical) is 20-year annualized returns from college fees paid.  The x-axis is selectivity, running from under 10 percent to near open admissions.  

The Payscale chart is a very good example of how data visualization can be used to communicate both core facts and useful nuance.  Here, the lede is unmistakable:  the red dots (engineering/CS/math) are overwhelming higher on the ROI scale than the blue dots (arts & humanities).  Sure, there are exceptions to this rule, but they don't occur very often. (Observe how rarely a blue dot is above the red fit-line.) This suggests it would be very foolish to get a blue degree and expect a red paycheck unless you have very good information (or skills or talent) that others lack.

The chart conveys another important piece of information -- the red fit-line is flat.  This means that for engineering/CS/math majors, prestige has not been very relevant to their eventual earnings.  I'll add a nuance here that some empirically savvy readers are bound to point out:  It is possible (indeed likely) that fees are higher at more selective schools. So if MIT costs twice as much as a public polytech, and both yield 12% over 20 years, one might wish they had gone to MIT.   Still, the flat trendline is surprising.  As a general matter, lower ranked schools are not dramatically cheaper than higher ranked schools, and many public schools are highly selective.  The flat red trendline suggests that there are (or were, remember these are historical data) many bargains out there.  If one is trying to maximize financial returns, the goal is to find a school that will, in the future, be well above the red fit-line (and avoid those below).  

The flat red fit-line is also surprising because college selectivity is almost certainly highly correlated with ACT or SAT scores, which our society often views as measures of general intelligence. Yet, there we have it -- a flat trendline. Four years of education seem to be more relevant than a standardized test score taken during high school.  That is heartening at many levels.

A third interesting trend -- the blue fit-line is sloped downward.  This suggests that in the arts & humanities, selectivity/prestige does have a financial payoff.  I don't think this will surprise many readers, albeit the prestige payoff is not very large. To use a simple metaphor, if you attend a more selective college or university to get your arts or humanity degree, you are likely to have a better house in the arts & humanities neighborhood.  But on average, you won't be able to afford the same neighborhood as the engineers, computer scientists, and math majors.

What about Law?

Moving on to law, if we want to examine the relationship between earnings and law school attended, the best available evidence is probably the After the JD Study (AJD), which is large, representative sample of law graduates who took and passed the bar in 2000.  

Data from AJD Wave 3 suggests that the financial returns are relatively strong for all law school graduates -- ten years out and graduates of Tier 4 schools have median earnings of $100,000 per year. As shown in chart below, this is akin to shifting the blue dots up into the red territory.  

AJDearnnings

The downward sloping fit-line remains, but that doesn't seem to matter very much to happiness. Other AJD data shows that regardless of tier of graduating school, AJD respondents show relatively high and uniform satisfaction with (a) the decision to become a lawyer, and (b) the value of the law degree as an investment. By 2010, 48% of respondents had no debt; only 5.1% had more than $100K in educational debt remaining. 

This is all good news.  But is it reasonable to extrapolate forward and assume the past is a fairly accurate barometer of the present and the future? 

One way to address that question is to ascertain what has changed since 2000.  As noted earlier, the AJD sample was composed of law graduates who passed the bar in the year 2000. Figures published by NALP and the ABA show that the percentage of full-time bar passage required jobs has dropped significantly over the last 13+ years -- from 77.3% for the class of 2000 to 57% for the class of 2013. That is a huge delta.

Barpassagerequiredjob

One of the reasons why law school applicants have plummeted is that the career path from JD graduates has become murky.  And that is a good place to start Part II

July 19, 2015 in Blog posts worth reading, Cross industry comparisons, Data on legal education, Data on the profession, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Early Days of Legal Analytics

LexMachina-logo1There is an interesting story in Forbes on Lex Machina, a legal start-up that provides analytics for use in patent litigation.  See Dan Fisher, Stanford-Bred Startup Uses Moneyball Stats to Handicap Judges, Forbes, Feb. 2, 2015.  The company was created by faculty at Stanford Computer Science and Stanford Law.  As the company emerged from the University, the reigns were handed to Josh Becker, a Stanford JD-MBA.  To date, the company has raised $8 million in start-up funding.  According to the Forbes article, the company's clients include some of the nation's large technology companies plus one-third of the AmLaw 100.

What makes Lex Machina so interesting is that the company is not a NewLaw service provider that trying to take marketshare. Instead, Lex Machina is a toolmaker.  It is a true Big Data company that provides analytics to (a) value contested patents and (b) protect/maximize that value through a litigation strategy that is informed by data.  

The impact of Lex Machina is hard to decipher, primarily because if it does provide an edge, the customers are unlikely to be too vocal. Just like a hedge fund with an effective trading strategy, why advertise the ingredients of your secret sauce? Indeed, compared to other toolmakers (e.g., predictive coding, expert systems) Lex Machina's benefits are less about efficiency and more about affecting the outcomes of cases -- who wins and by how much.  If Lex Machina is truly delivering, it will eventually touch-off a Big Data legal analytics arms race akin to the quant revolution on Wall Street.  Dan Katz frequently makes this point, and I think he is right.  The Forbes article makes the point that Lex Machina is already moving into adjacent areas of IP law and general commercial litigation.  

The broader legal industry is unlikely to notice Lex Machina until it has a substantial liquidity event -- i.e., it's acquired or goes public, making if founders far richer than the BigLaw partners and in-house lawyers they currently serve.  

If we are looking for early signs of a tipping point for legal analytics, one marker may be the number of Stanford Law grads who are turning down entry-level opportunities in BigLaw to pursue legal start-ups.  In recent years, Stanford Law grads fresh out of law school have gone on to found other venture-backed legal start-ups like Ravel Law, Judicata, and Law Gives.  Back in 2013, The Stanford Lawyer (SLS alumni magazine) had an extensive write-up with several examples.  See Sharon, Driscoll, A Positive Disruption, June 4, 2013.  In 2014, Stanford's CSO offered a program titled, An Alternative to BigLaw -- Startups.

The legal world isn't going away; it's just changing.

February 7, 2015 in Cross industry comparisons, Current events, Data on the profession, Innovations in law, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Size of the US Legal Market by Type of Client

Washington, DC.  The AALS Section on Professional Responsibility hosted a vigorous discussion today on the evolving ethical duty of competency, a topic partially inspired by the recent changes to Model Rule 1.1 cmt. 8 (requiring lawyers to stay abreast of the "benefits and risks associated with relevant technology").  As part of this panel, I showed a chart on the size of the US legal market, which was promptly tweeted by CALI 's Director of Community Development, Sarah Glassmeyer, a law librarian who is a total data subversive in a style and manner I fully support.

Well, despite a less-than-optimal photo angle, the chart was retweeted and favorited, so I figured I ought to just post the actual chart here. [Click on to enlarge] Legal Market

In a competitive market, the threshold question, asked by potential entrants and those who might finance them, is often the same: "what is the size of the available (or addressible) market?" Because lawyers and law schools are feeling unprecedented economic pressure, I thought it would be worthwhile to run this exercise for the U.S. legal industry and break it down by type of client.

The figures above are estimates of 2014 receipts going to organizations and individuals in the business of providing legal services.  My calculations are derived from US Census Bureau data. They exclude the cost of in-house and government lawyers.  More granular calculation details will be laid out in a forthcoming publication.

At today's AALS Professional Responsibility session, technology was framed as an ethical issue. And that is certainly right:  technology can deliver enormous cost and quality benefits to clients, so we have both a fiduciary and professional duty to be up-to-date.  Yet, there is a flip-side here that is crucially important -- to ignore or fall behind on technology is to run the risk of commercial ruin. This axiom applies to lawyers in private practice and to law schools that want employers to hire their graduates. 

Building upon that theme, I used the Market Size chart to make two points today, one based on the high-end corporate market (right side of chart) and the other directed toward the individual consumer market (left side of chart). 

Re the corporate side, the data show that a relatively small roster of large corporations are spending vast sums each year on legal services -- more than $10 million per year for a publicly held company.  Because large national and international corporations are awash in a sea of growing legal complexity, they are turning to technology, process, and data to keep legal costs in line with overall company revenues.  From the perspective of a large corporate client, the typical junior law firm associate has little to offer.  A more seasoned partner or counsel is a better value, but this is by virtue of experience rather than technology or process.  As a result, law firm hiring remains stagnant, and more legal work is being taken in-house or given to LPOs or New Law legal service providers like Axiom, Elevate, or Novus Law.  It may take a generation for the law school--law firm--legal department supply chain to come into a reasonable alignment.  Right now, it's broken.

Re the individual retail market, the $232 annual legal spend per citizen means that there is not enough money go around to pay for all the legal need.   If a middle-class professional couple with kids has a contested divorce, that could easily chew-up $50,000 to $100,000 in legal fees.  A DUI is likely to cost $1,500.  A worker's comp claim might be 30% of an award.  Probate work runs well into the thousands.  In reality, most citizens go without.  One of our co-panelists today, retired US Magistrate Judge John Facciola, made the claim that 83% of American never talk to a lawyer to help them with a legal problem.  "The middle class is largely gone from federal court."  To my mind, technology is the only vehicle for tapping into a large latent market for legal services.  LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, Modria, Shake, and many other legal technology companies all see the potential here. And so do the venture capital and private equity firms that are funding them. 

 Today's panel was one of the most lively I have ever attended at AALS, owing in part to my excellent co-panelists but also an audience that asked some great, tough questions.  Many thanks to Andy Perlman (Suffolk Law) for organizing a terrific session and Natasha Martin (Seattle) for her skillful moderation of the panel.

January 4, 2015 in Current events, Data on the profession, Legal Departments, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Composition of Graduating Classes of Law Students -- 2013-2016 -- Part One

PART ONE -- Analyzing the LSAT Profile/Composition of Entering First-Years from 2010 to 2013 and 2014

In the fall of 2013, I had a series of blog posting about the changing demographics of law students.  In the first, I noted that fewer students were coming to law school from elite colleges and universities.  In the second, I noted that between 2010 and 2013 there had been a decline in the number of matriculants with high LSATs and an increase in the number of matriculants with low LSATs such that the “composition” of the class that entered law school in the fall of 2013 was demonstrably less robust (in terms of LSAT profile) than the “composition” of the class that entered law school in the fall of 2010.  In describing this phenomenon, I noted that when the entering class in fall 2013 graduates in 2016, it might encounter greater problems with bar passage than previous classes. 

In light of the significant decline in the median MBE scaled score in July, which Derek Muller has discussed here and here, and which I have discussed here, and a significant decline in first-time bar passage rates in many jurisdictions this year, it seems like an appropriate time to look more closely at changing class profiles and the likely impact on bar passage in the next few years.

This is the first of two blog posts regarding the changing composition of entering classes and the changing composition of graduating classes.  In Part I, I analyze the distribution of LSAT scores across categories based on the LSAC’s National Decision Profiles for the years 2009-2010 through 2012-2013, and then analyze the distribution of law school median LSATs and the 25th percentile LSATs across ranges of LSAT scores.  In Part II, I will analyze how attrition trends have changed since 2010 to assess what that might tell us about the composition of graduating classes three years after entering law school as a way of thinking about the likely impact on bar passage over time.

Tracking Changes Based on National Decision Profiles – 2010-2013

The following discussion summarizes data in the LSAC’s National Decision Profiles from the 2009-10 admission cycle (fall 2010) through the 2012-13 admission cycle (fall 2013).  The National Decision Profile for the 2013-14 admission cycle (fall 2014) has not yet been released.

Let’s start with the big picture.  If you take the matriculants each year and break them into three LSAT categories – 160+, 150-159, and <150 – the following chart and graph show the changes in percentages of matriculants in each of these categories over the last four years. 

Percentage of Matriculants in LSAT Categories – 2010-2013

                        2010    2011    2012    2013

160+                40.8     39        36.3     33.4

150-159           45        45.3     44.3     44.1

<150                14.2     15.7     19.3     22.5

Image1
Notably, this chart and graph show almost no change in the “middle” category (150-159 -- purple) with most of the change at the top (160+ -- orange -- decreasing from 40.8% to 33.4%) and bottom (<150 -- blue -- increasing from 14.2% to 22.5%).  This chart and graph also show only a modest change between 2010 and 2011 with more significant changes in 2012 and again in 2013 – when the percentage of students with LSATs of 160+ declines more substantially and the percentage of students with LSATs of <150 grows more substantially.

While I think this tells the story pretty clearly, for those interested in more detail, the following charts provide a more granular analysis.

Changes in LSAT Distributions of Matriculants – 2010-2013       

                            2010    2011    2012    2013         Chg in Number     % Chg in Number       

170+                3635    3330    2788    2072                -1563               -43%   

165-169           5842    5622    4783    4082                -1760               -30%   

160-164           10666  8678    7281    6442                -4224               -39.6%

155-159           11570   10657  9700    8459                -3111                -26.9%

150-154           10626  9885    8444    8163                -2463               -23.2%

145-149           5131     5196    5334    5541                 410                  8%      

<145                1869    1888    2564    2930                1061    `           56.8% 

                        49339  45256  40894  37689 

Note that in terms of percentage change in the number of matriculants in each LSAT category, the five highest LSAT categories are all down at least 20%, with 160-164 down nearly 40% and 170+ down over 40%, while the two lowest LSAT categories are up, with <145 being up over 50%.

 

Image1
Note that in the line graph above, the top two categories have been combined into 165+ while the bottom two categories have been combined into <150.  Perhaps most significantly, in 2010, the <150 group, with 7,000 students, was over 2,400 students smaller than the next smallest category (165+ with 9.477) and more than 4,500 students smaller than the largest category (155-159 with 11,570).  By 2013, however, the <150 category had become the largest category, with 8,471, just surpassing the 155-159 category, with 8,459, and now 2,300 larger than the smallest category, 165+ with only 6,154.

Changes in Percentage of Matriculants in LSAT Ranges – 2010-2013

                        PERCENTAGE OF MATRICULANTS

                        2010    2011    2012    2013    % Chg in %    

>169                0.074   0.074   0.068   0.055   -25.7%

165-169           0.118   0.124   0.117    0.108   -8.5%  

160-164           0.216   0.192   0.178   0.171   -20.8%

155-159           0.235   0.235   0.237   0.224   -4.7%  

150-154           0.215   0.218   0.206   0.217   0.9%   

145-149           0.104   0.115    0.13     0.147   41.3% 

<145                0.038   0.042   0.063   0.078   105.3%                       

In terms of the “composition” of the class, the percentage of matriculants in each LSAT category, as noted above, little has changed in the “middle” – 155-159 and 150-154, but significant changes have occurred at the top and bottom, with declines of 20% or more at 160-164 and 170+ and with increases of 40% at 145-149 and over 100% at <145.

Tracking Changes in Law School Median LSATs by LSAT Category

A different way of looking at this involves LSAT profiles among law schools over this period.  Based on the data law schools reported in their Standard 509 Reports, from 2010 to 2014, the chart below lists the numbers of law schools reporting median LSATs within certain LSAT ranges.  (This chart excludes law schools in Puerto Rico and provisionally-approved law schools.)

Number of Law Schools with LSAT Medians in LSAT Categories – 2010-2014

 

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

165+

30

31

26

23

21

160-164

47

41

39

31

29

155-159

59

57

56

53

51

150-154

50

52

53

56

59

145-149

9

14

22

28

29

<145

0

1

0

5

7

 

Image1

The chart above pretty clearly demonstrates the changes that have taken place since 2010, with declines in the number of law schools with median LSATs in higher LSAT categories and increases in the number of law schools with median LSATs in the lower LSAT categories.  The number of law schools with median LSATs of 160 or higher has declined from 77 to 50.  By contrast, the number of law schools with median LSATs of <150 has quadrupled, from 9 to 36.   Moreover, the “mode” in 2010 was in the 155-159 category, with nearly 60 law schools, but as of 2014, the “mode” had shifted to the 150-154 category with nearly 60 law schools.

Number of Law Schools with 25th Percentile LSAT in LSAT Categories – 2010-2014

 

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

165+

17

16

11

10

10

160-164

26

20

21

17

15

155-159

55

54

49

42

41

150-154

67

69

59

65

57

145-149

26

33

46

48

48

<145

4

4

10

14

25

 

Image1

For those who want to focus on the bottom 25th percentile of LSAT profile among law schools, the chart above shows a similar trend when compared with the medians, except that the number of law schools with a 25th  percentile LSAT between 150-154 also declined (as opposed to an increase with respect to medians). The number of law schools with 25th percentile LSATs of 160 or higher has declined from 43 to 25.  Similarly, the number of law schools with 25th percentile LSATs of 150-159 has declined from 122 to 98.  By contrast, the number of law schools with 25th percentile LSATs of 145-149 has nearly doubled from 26 to 48, while the number of law schools with 25th percentile LSATs of <145 has sextupled from 4 to 25. 

One other way of looking at this is just to see how the average first-year LSAT profiles have changed over the last four years. 

Average LSATs of Matriculants at Fully-Accredited ABA Law Schools

            75th Percentile             Median            25th Percentile

2010                160.5               158.1               155.2

2011                160.1               157.8               154.5

2012                159.6               157                  153.6

2013                158.7               156                  152.6

2014                158.2               155.4               151.8

This shows that between 2010 and 2014, the average 75th percentile LSAT has declined by 2.3 points, the average median LSAT has declined by 2.7 points and that the average 25th percentile LSAT has declined by 3.4 points.

Conclusion

If one focuses on the LSAT score as one measure of “quality” of the entering class of law students each year, then the period from 2010-2014 not only has seen a significant decline in enrollment, it also has seen a significant decline in quality.  On an axis with high LSATs to the left and low LSATs to the right, the “composition” of the entering class of law students between 2010 and 2014 has shifted markedly to the right, as shown in the graph below.  Moreover, the shape of the curve has changed somewhat, thinning among high LSAT ranges and growing among low LSAT ranges.  

Image1

This shift in entering class composition suggests that bar passage rates are likely to continue to decline in the coming years.  But in terms of bar passage, the entering class profile is less meaningful than the graduating class profile.  In part two, I will look at attrition data from 2011 to 2014 to try to quantify the likely “composition” of the graduating classes from 2010 to 2013, which will give us a more refined idea of what to expect in terms of trends in bar passage in 2015 and 2016.

(I am grateful to Bernie Burk and Alice Noble-Allgire for helpful comments on earlier drafts.)

December 29, 2014 in Data on legal education, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Market for Law School Applicants -- A Milestone to Remember

In early 2013, Michael Moffitt, the dean of Oregon Law, was interviewed by the New York Times about the tumult affecting law schools. Moffitt, who is a very thoughtful guy, reponded, "I feel like I am living a business school case study.”  

I think the analogy to the business school case study is a good one.  In the nearly two years since that story was published, the market for law school applicants has actually gotten worse.

Yesterday's Dealbook column in the New York Times featured Northwestern Law Dean Dan Rodriguez (who also serves at President of the AALS) speaking candidly about the meltdown dynamics that have taken hold.  See Elizabeth Olson, "Law School is Buyer's Market, with Top Students in Demand," New York Times, Dec. 1, 2014. 

DanRodriguez"It's insane," said Rodriguez, "We’re in hand-to-hand combat with other schools." The trendlines are indeed terrible.  Year-over-year, LSAT test-taker volume is down another 8.7%.  See Organ, LWB, Nov 11, 2014.  So we can expect the situation to get worse, at least in the near term.      

I applaud Dan Rodriguez for this leadership instincts.  He is being transparent and honest.  Several years ago the leadership of the AALS went to great lengths to avoid engagement with the media. Dan has gone the opposite direction, inviting the press into our living room and kitchen.  

Want to know what leadership and judgment look like?  It looks like Dan's interview with Elizabeth Olson.  Dan's words did not solve anyone's problem, but his honesty and candor made it more likely that we help ourselves.  Because it's Northwestern, and Dan is president of the AALS (something the story did not mention but most of us know), and this was reported by Elizabeth Olson in the New York Times, the substance and tenor of discussions within law school faculties is bound to shift, at least slightly and in the direction favoring change.   

What is the de facto plan at most law schools these days?  Universities are not going to backstop law schools indefinitely. I think the sign below is not far off the mark.  

Outrun-the-bear

We are indeed living through a business school case study, which is both bad and good.   At many schools -- likely well more than half --  hard choices need to be made to ensure survival.  (And for the record, virtually all schools, regardless of rank, are feeling uncomfortable levels of heat.)   A law school needs cash to pay its expenses.  But it also needs faculty and curricula to attract students. The deeper a law school cuts, the less attractive it becomes to students.  Likewise, pervasive steep discounts on tuition reflect a classic collective action problem. Some schools may eventually close, but a huge proportion of survivors are burning through their financial reserves.  

Open admissions, which might pay the bills today, will eventually force the ABA and DOE to do something neither really want to do -- aggressively regulate legal education.  This is not a game that is likely to produce many winners.  Rather than letting this play out, individual law schools would be much better off pursuing a realistic strategic plan that can actually move the market. 

The positive side of the business school case study is that a few legal academics are finding their voice and learning -- for the first time in several generations -- how to lead.  Necessity is a wonderful tutor.  Law is not an industry on the decline -- far from it.  The only thing on the decline is the archetypal artisan lawyer that law schools are geared to churn out.  Indeed, back in 2013 when Dean Moffitt commented about living through a business school case study, he was not referencing imminent failure.   Sure, Moffitt did not like the hand he was being dealt, but as the 2013 article showed, his school was proving to be remarkably resourceful in adapting.

The good news resides on the other side of a successful change effort.  The process of change is painful, yet the effects of change can be transformative and make people truly grateful for the pain that made it all possible.  In our case, for the first time in nearly a century, what we teach, and how we teach it, is actually going matter.  If we believe serious publications like The Economist, employers in law, business, and government need creative problem solvers who are excellent communicators, adept at learning new skills, and comfortable collaborating accross multiple disciplines -- this is, in fact, a meaningful subset of the growing JD-Advantage job market.

In the years to come, employers will become more aggressive looking for the most reliable sources of talent, in part because law schools are going to seek out preferred-provider relationships with high quality employers.  Hiring based on school prestige is a remarkably ineffective way to build a world-class workforce -- Google discovered this empirically.  

From an employer perspective, the best bet is likely to be three years of specialized training, ideally where applicants are admitted based on motivation, aptitude, and past accomplishments. The LSAT/UGPA grid method misses this by a wide margin. After that, the design and content of curricula are going to matter.  It is amazing how much motivated students can learn and grow in three years. And remarkably, legal educators control the quality of the soil.  It brings to mind that seemingly trite Spiderman cliche about great power.

For those of us working in legal education, the next several years could be the best of times or the worst of times.  We get to decide.  Yesterday's article in the Times made it a little more likely that we actually have the difficult conversations needed to get to the other side. 

December 2, 2014 in Current events, Data on legal education, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, October 20, 2014

What Law Schools Can Learn from Dental Schools in the 1980s Regarding the Consequences of a Decline in Applicants

For four consecutive years we have seen a decline in the number of applicants to law school and a corresponding decline in the number of matriculating first-year students.  Over the last year or two, some have suggested that as a result of this “market adjustment” some law schools would end up closing.  Most recently, the former AALS President, Michael Olivas, in response to the financial challenges facing the Thomas Jefferson Law School, was quoted as stating that he expects several law schools to close. 

To date, however, no law schools have closed (although the Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School recently announced the closure of its Ann Arbor branch).  

Have law schools found ways to cut costs and manage expenses in the face of declining revenues such that all will remain financially viable and remain in operation?  Is it realistic to think that no law schools will close?

Although there may be a number of people in the legal academy who continue to believe that somehow legal education is “exceptional” – that market forces may impose financial challenges for law schools in the near term, but will not result in the closing of any law schools -- this strikes me as an unduly optimistic assessment of the situation. 

To understand why, I think those in legal education can learn from the experience of those in dental education in the 1980s.

The Dental School Experience from 1975-1990

In the 1980s, dental school deans, along with provosts and presidents at their host universities, had to deal with the challenge of a significant decline in applicants to dental school. 

At least partially in response to federal funding to support dental education, first-year enrollment at the country’s dental schools grew throughout the 1970s to a peak in 1979 of roughly 6,300 across roughly 60 dental schools.  Even at that point, however, for a number of reasons -- improved dental health from fluoridation, reductions in federal funding, high tuition costs and debt loads -- the number of applicants had already started to decline from the mid-1970s peak of over 15,000. 

By the mid-1980s, applicants had fallen to 6,300 and matriculants had fallen to 5,000.  As of 1985, no dental schools had closed.  But by the late 1980s and early 1990s there were fewer than 5000 applicants and barely 4000 first-year students – applicants had declined by more than two-thirds and first-year enrollment had declined by more than one-third from their earlier peaks. (Source – American Dental Association – Trends in Dental Education – U.S. Dental School Applicant and First-Year Enrollment Trends 1955-2009 (copy on file with author).)

How did dental schools and their associated universities respond to this changing market?  Between 1986 and 1993, six private universities closed their dental schools: Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, Oklahoma (1986); Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia (1988); Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. (1990); Fairleigh Dickinson University, Rutherford, New Jersey (1990); Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri (1991); and Loyola University, Chicago, Illinois (1993). (Source: Dental Education at the Crossroads:  Challenges and Change, Table 1.1 (Institute of Medicine 1995)).  According to a New York Times article from October 29, 1987, “Georgetown, formerly the nation's largest private dental school, decided to close after a Price Waterhouse study found that the school would have a $3.6 million deficit by 1992.” (Source: Tamar Lewin, Plagued by Falling Enrollment, Dental Schools Close or Cut Back, New York Times, Oct. 29, 1987).

Some of the primary factors contributing to the closing of dental schools were described as follows:

Financial issues were repeatedly described as critical. Dental education was cited as an expensive enterprise that is or may become a drain on university resources. On average, current-year expenditures for the average dental school are about $1 million more than current revenues. … The declining size and quality of the applicant pool during the 1980s played a role in some closures by threatening the tuition base and prestige on which private schools rely. Faculty and alumni resistance to change may feed impatience among university administrators. In some institutions, the comparative isolation of dental schools within the university has provided them with few allies or at least informed colleagues and has left them ill-prepared to counter proposals for "downsizing." (Source: Dental Education at the Crossroads:  Challenges and Change, at 202-203 (Institute of Medicine 1995)). 

The Law School Experience from 2004-2014

In terms of applicants and enrollment over the last decade, the trends law schools have experienced look remarkably comparable to the experience of dental schools in the 1970s and 1980s.  According to the LSAC Volume Summary, applicants to law schools peaked in 2004 with 100,600 applicants (and roughly 48,200 first-year students).  By 2010, applicants had fallen to roughly 87,600, but first-year enrollment peaked at 52,500.  Over the last four years, applicants have fallen steadily to roughly 54,700 for fall 2014, with a projected 37,000 first-years matriculating this fall, the smallest number since 1973-74, when there were 40 fewer law schools and over one thousand fewer law professors.  (Source - ABA Statistics)(For the analysis supporting this projection of 37,000 first-years, see my blog post on The Legal Whiteboard from March 18, 2014.)  

The two charts below compare the dental school experience from 1975 to 1990 with the law school experience in the last decade.  One chart compares dental school applicants with law school applicants and one chart compares dental school first-years with law school first-years.  (Note that for purposes of easy comparison, the law school numbers are presented as one-tenth of the actual numbers.)

Applicants

First years

(Sources – American Dental Association – Trends in Dental Education – U.S. Dental School Applicant and First-Year Enrollment Trends 1955-2009 (copy on file with author) and the LSAC’s Volume Summary  (with my own estimates for 2014 based on the LSAC’s Current Volume Summary)).

The Law School Experience 2014-2019

Notably, these charts do not bode well for law schools.  The law school experience tracks pretty closely the dental school experience over the first ten years reflected in the charts.  For law schools, 2014 looks a lot like 1985 did for dental schools.

There might be any number of reasons why the law school experience over the next several years might be different from the dental school experience in the late 1980s and early 1990s, such that the next several years do not continue as a downward trend in applicants and matriculants.  The market forces associated with changes in the dental profession and dental education in the 1980s are not the same as the market forces associated with changes in the legal profession and legal education in the 2010s and the cost structures for dental education and legal education are not exactly the same.

The problem for law schools, however, is that without an upward trend law schools will continue to face significant financial pressures for the next few years just as dental schools did in the late 1980s.  There might be some encouraging news on the employment front over the next few years as the decreasing number of matriculants will mean a decreasing number of graduates in 2015, 2016 and 2017.  Even without any meaningful growth in the employment market for law graduates, this decline in the number of graduates should mean significant increases in the percentage of graduates finding full-time, long-term employment in bar passage required jobs.  Over time, this market signal may begin to gain traction among those considering law school such that the number of applicants to law school stops declining and perhaps starts increasing modestly. 

But the near term remains discouraging.  The number of people taking the June 2014 LSAT was down roughly 9% compared to June 2013 and the anticipation is that the number of test-takers in the most recent administration in late September was down as well compared to October 2013.  Thus, applicants well might be down another 5-8% in the 2014-15 admissions cycle, resulting in perhaps as few as 51,000 applicants and perhaps as few as 35,000 matriculants in fall 2015.  Even if things flatten out and begin to rebound modestly in the next few years, it would appear to be unlikely that the number of matriculants will climb back near or above 40,000 before the fall of 2017 or 2018.

Moreover, if current trends continue, the matriculants in 2015 also are going to have a significantly less robust LSAT/GPA profile than the matriculants in fall 2010.   As I noted in a blog posting on March 2, 2014, between 2010 and 2013, the number of law schools with a median LSAT less than 150 grew from 9 to 32, and the number with a median LSAT of 145 or below grew from 1 to 9.

What Does this Mean for the Average Law School?

Assume you are the Dean at a hypothetical private law school that had 600 students (200 in each class) and a budget based on $18 million in JD tuition revenue in 2010-11.  (This reflects a net tuition of $30,000 from each student – with nominal tuition set at $40,000 but with a discount rate of 25%.)  Further assume that with this budget, your law school was providing $2.0 million annually to the university with which it is affiliated.  As of 2010-11, your entering class profile reflected a median LSAT of 155 and a median GPA of 3.4.

Assume first-year enrollment declined to 170 in 2011, to 145 in 2012, and to 125 in 2013, a cumulative decrease in first-year enrollment since 2010 of 37%.  As you tried to balance enrollment and profile, the law school managed to maintain its median LSAT and GPA in 2011, but saw its LSAT and GPA medians decline to 153 and 3.35 in 2012 and to 152 and 3.30 in 2013.

This means that for the 2013-14 academic year, the law school had only 440 students, a decrease of roughly 27% from its total enrollment of 600 in 2010, with a much less robust entering class profile in comparison with the entering class profile in 2010. (Note that this assumes no attrition and no transfers in or out, so if anything, it likely overstates total enrollment).  (For comparison purposes, the National Jurist recently listed 25 law schools with enrollment declines of 28% or more between 2010-11 and 2013-14.)

Assume further that the law school had to increase its scholarships to attract even this smaller pool of students with less robust LSAT/GPA profiles, such that the net tuition from each first-year student beginning in fall 2012 has been only $25,500 (with nominal tuition now set at $42,500, but with a discount rate of 40%). 

For the 2013-14 academic year, therefore, you were operating with a budget based on $12,411,000 in JD tuition revenue, a decrease in JD tuition revenue of over $5.5 million since the 2010-11 academic year, over 30%.  (170 x $32,500 for third years ($5.525 million), 145 x $25,500 for second years ($3.698 million), and 125 x $25,500 for first-years ($3.188 million)).

What does this mean?  This means you have been in budget-cutting mode for over three years.  Of course, this has been a challenge for the law school, given that a significant percentage of its costs are for faculty and staff salaries and associated fringe benefits.  Through the 2013-14 academic year, however, assume you cut costs by paring the library budget, eliminating summer research stipends for faculty, finding several other places to cut expenditures, cutting six staff positions and using the retirement or early retirement of ten of your 38 faculty members as a de facto “reduction in force,” resulting in net savings of $3.59 million.  In addition, assume you have gotten the university to agree to waive any “draw” saving another $2 million (based on the “draw” in 2010-2011).  Thus, albeit in a significantly leaner state, you managed to generate a “balanced” budget for the 2013-14 year while generating no revenue for your host university.    

The problem is that the worst is yet to come, as the law school welcomes a class of first-year students much smaller than the class of third-years that graduated in May.  With the continued decline in the number of applicants, the law school has lower first-year enrollment again for 2014-15, with only 120 first-year students with a median LSAT and GPA that has declined again to 151 and 3.2.  Projections for 2015-16 (based on the decline in June and October 2014 LSAT takers) suggest that the school should expect no more than 115 matriculants and may see a further decline in profile.  That means that the law school has only 390 students in 2014-15 and may have only 360 students in 2015-16 (an enrollment decline of 40% since 2010-11). Assuming net tuition for first-year students also remains at $25,500 due to the competition on scholarships to attract students (and this may be a generous assumption) – the JD tuition revenue for 2014-15 and 2015-16 is estimated to be $9,945,000, and $9,180,000, respectively (a decline in revenue of nearly 50% from the 2010-11 academic year). 

In reality, then, the “balanced” budget for the 2013-2014 academic year based on revenues of $12,411,000, now looks like a $2,500,000 budget shortfall in 2014-15 and a $3,200,000 budget shortfall for the 2015-16 academic year, absent significant additional budget cuts or new revenue streams (with most of the “low hanging fruit” in terms of budget cuts already “picked”). 

While you may be able to make some extraordinary draws on unrestricted endowment reserves to cover some of the shortfall (assuming the law school has some endowment of its own), and may be creative in pursuing new sources of revenue (a certificate program or a Master of Laws), even if you come up with an extra $400,000 annually in extraordinary draws on endowment and an extra $400,000 annually in terms of non-JD revenue you still are looking at losses of at least $1,700,000 in 2014-15 and at least $2,400,000 in 2015-16 absent further budget cuts.  Even with another round of early retirement offers to some tenured faculty and/or to staff (assuming there are still some that might qualify for early retirement), or the termination of untenured faculty and/or of staff, the budget shortfall well might remain in the $1,000,000 to $1,700,000 range for this year and next year (with similar projections for the ensuing years).  This means the law school may need subsidies from the university with which it is affiliated, or may need to make even more draconian cuts than it has contemplated to date.  (For indications that these estimates have some relation to reality, please see the recent stories about budget issues at Albany, Minnesota and UNLV.)

Difficult Conversations -- Difficult Decisions

This situation will make for some interesting conversations between you as the Dean of the law school and the Provost and President of the university.  As noted above in the discussion of dental schools, the provost and president of a university with a law school likely will be asking:  How “mission critical” is the law school to the university when the law school has transformed from a “cash cow” into a “money pit” and when reasonable projections suggest it may continue to be a money pit for the next few years?  How "mission critical" is the law school when its entering class profile is significantly weaker than it was just a few years ago, particularly if that weaker profile begins to translate into lower bar passage rates and even less robust employment outcomes?   How “mission critical” is the law school to the university if its faculty and alumni seem resistant to change and if the law school faculty and administration are somewhat disconnected from their colleagues in other schools and departments on campus?

Some universities are going to have difficult decisions to make (as may the Boards of Trustees of some of the independent law schools).  As of 1985, no dental schools had closed, but by the late 1980s and early 1990s, roughly ten percent of the dental schools were closed in response to significant declines in the number and quality of applicants and the corresponding financial pressures.  When faced with having to invest significantly to keep dental schools open, several universities decided that dental schools no longer were “mission critical” aspects of the university. 

I do not believe law schools should view themselves as so exceptional that they will have more immunity to these market forces than dental schools did in the 1980s.  I do not know whether ten percent of law schools will close, but just as some universities decided dental schools were no longer “mission critical” to the university, it is not only very possible, but perhaps even likely, that some universities now will decide that law schools that may require subsidies of $1 million or $2 million or more for a number of years are no longer “mission critical” to the university. 

(I am grateful to Bernie Burk and Derek Muller for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this blog posting.)

 

October 20, 2014 in Cross industry comparisons, Data on legal education, Scholarship on legal education, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Is the Legal Profession Showing Its Age?

The figure below suggests that a growing number of students are attending law school but not going on to become lawyers.  This conclusion requires some explanation, which I will supply below.  Alternative explanations are also welcome, as I’d like to find a plausible narrative that foreshadows a brighter future for the licensed bar. [PDF version of this essay]

Slide14

I generated this figure based on data from various editions of The Lawyer Statistical Report, which is periodically compiled by the American Bar Foundation (ABF).  The ABF's gets the underlying data from Martindale-Hubbell, which is a comprehensive directory of the licensed bar.  As of 2005, the sample was roughly 1 million lawyers who work in law firms, solo practice, in-house legal departments, government, and the judiciary.

The big surprise here is that the proportion of young lawyers (under age 35) has been declining for several decades.  And not by a little, but by a lot.  During this period, the median age went from 39 in 1980, to 41 in 1991, to 45 in 2000, to 49 in 2005.  See ABA Market Research Department.

I would be tempted to attribute a demographic shift of this magnitude to a computational error.  But that is unlikely because the underlying data were calculated at four different points in time, yet the results come together to produce a single, steady trendline -- a trendline that shows a licensed bar that is steadily aging.  

Another possible factor to consider is whether there are any significant data collection or sampling issues that skew the data in a manner that dramatically undercounts younger lawyers. For example, Martindale-Hubbell is largely irrelevant to today's younger lawyers.  So, in solo and small firm practices, where they are making the business decisions, we might expect plummeting subscription rates.  But subscribing and requesting the publication of additional biographical information (in the hope of garnering referral business) is not the same thing as being listed. Martindale Hubbell attempts to track lawyers who did not subscribe to the directory, as the near-universe level of inclusion increases the directory's value.  

To illustrate this point, consider that in 2000, the Lawyer Statistical Report (which relies on Martindale-Hubbell data) counted 909,000 lawyers.  According to the ABA, the total number of lawyers licensed in the US (compiled from state bar roles) was 1,022,000, and that almost certainly includes some double counting of lawyers licensed in more than one state.  While I have no doubt that younger lawyers are becoming harder to hunt down because of cell phones and home-based offices, the gap of missing lawyers is just not big enough to fully account for the sharp drop-off in younger lawyers. 

I have shown this chart to various law firms, legal departments, law faculty and bar association audiences.  Through this process, I have developed two working theories that are not mutually exclusive:

  1. Increased exits from law practice based on gender integration
  2. Slowing absorption of law graduates into the licensed bar

Theory 1: Gender Integration

One explanation is gender integration.  In short, over the last 40 years, more women have entered the legal profession; and as an empirical matter, they are much more likely to exit the workforce in order to focus on childcare.  Thus, more gender integration over time would cause a proportional decline in the younger lawyer cohort.

So let's examine the data.  According to the figure below, which shows number of male and female 1Ls enrolling by year at ABA-accredited law schools [Click-on to enlarge], the high water mark for male 1L enrollment occurred over 40 years ago -- in 1971!   The high water mark for female enrollment in percentage terms was 2000 (49.4%). In absolute numbers, the high was the class entering in the fall of 2009 (24,305).  

Temp12

Presumably, the higher the percentage of female graduates, the lower the percentage of lawyers under the age of 35.  In 1968, a 22 year old female 1L, if she graduated from law school and stayed in the legal profession, would be part of the younger lawyer cohort in 1980. Yet, her 1L cohort included only 1,179 females (7.4% of all 1Ls).  By 1993 (12 years before 2005), the number of female 1Ls had increased to 19,059 (nearly 44%). So exits based on childcare factors would likely be increasing.  

I can readily accept gender integration as a partial, but not a complete, explanation.  Why? Because female exits are likely to be siphoning off a substantial portion of the over 35 cohort, as this group is still having and raising children.   It seems implausible that female lawyers are leaving in droves before age 35 (reducing the younger lawyer cohort) yet returning in droves thereafter (swelling the over 35 cohort).  Further, according to the figure above, the absolute number of law school graduates is increasing during this entire period.  Sheer numbers are likely a partial counterbalance to the impact of gender-related exits.

Theory 2:  Slowing Absorption of Younger Lawyers

It is important to keep in mind the magnitude of the overall slide in younger lawyers -- from 36% in 1980 to 13% in 2005.  One would think the trendline would be moving in the exact opposite direction -- that larger graduating classes would be replacing the much smaller number of law school graduates from 40 years earlier who were retiring or passing away.  But such a youth movement does not appear to be happening, at least based on data through 2005.

I think the most likely explanation is that the rate of absorption of law school graduates into the licensed bar has been steadily declining over time.  This explanation, which would affect men and women equally, is directionally consistent with the percentage of entry-level jobs in private practice, which has been declining since in the late 1980s. See figure below.

Slide10

The slower absorption theory is also directionally consistent with the shifting demographics of large law firms, which now have more partners than associates.  See figure below.

NLJdemographics

Despite the higher number of partners compared to associates, it is worth noting that large law firms are not becoming more generous in sharing the partnership pie.   

Rather, the real sea change is the decline in the number of traditional law firm associates, who have been slowly supplanted by staff attorneys, permanent of counsel lawyers, and nonequity partners. Indeed, over 40% are large law firm partners (defined at AmLaw 200 / NLJ 250) are nonequity. Three decades ago, this category of partner was relatively rare.  See Henderson, An Empirical Study of Single-Tier Versus Two-Tier Partnerships in the Am Law 200, 84 NC L Rev 1691 (2006).  The growth of nonequity partners reflects a new kind of law firm leverage that relies on senior lawyers. The annual ALM/Major Lindsay & Africa study of partner compensation reveals that equity partners make dramatically higher incomes than nonequity partners and that the size of the pay gap is widening over time. See Ross Todd, A Widening Partner Pay Gap, American Lawyer, Sept 29, 2014.  

The primary advantage of nonequity partners and other senior lawyers, like permanent counsel, is that training costs fall to near zero. Cf. Elizabeth Olson, Corporations Drive Drop in Law Firms’ Use of Starting Lawyers, Study Finds, New York Times, Oct. 10. 2014 (showing drop over time in use of first year associates because clients are refusing to pay for training costs).

To my mind, however, the most persuasive support for the lower absorption theory is the simple delta between the growth in the licensed bar--which has clearly hit a plateau--and the size of graduating classes from ABA-accredited law schools--which, until recently, had been steadily increasing. The figure below shows these macro-level trendlines.

Slide1

If younger lawyers were replacing older lawyers and also growing to keep pace with the broader economy, the under 35 young lawyers cohort would be getting bigger or at least remain relatively constant in size.  But instead, as the first figure in this essay showed, the younger lawyer cohort has gotten smaller.  Arguably, the simplest explanation for these patterns is that it has gotten much harder over time to parlay a JD degree into paid employment as a licensed lawyer.  So, faced with a saturated legal market, law school graduates have been pursuing careers outside of law.  

What Does This Mean?

The analysis above suggests that the JD Advantage / JD Preferred employment market started to take shape several decades ago, long before these terms were put in place by the ABA and NALP.  Yet, we really don't know about these careers.  To construct a more useful, informative narrative, we'd have to systematically study the career paths of our alumni.  That task is long overdue.  

I started teaching at Indiana Law in 2003.  Since I first saw the declining trendline for the young lawyer cohort, I have been thinking about the roughly 1,600 students who have taken my Corporations, Securities Regulation, Business Planning, Project Management, Law Firms as a Business Organization, and Legal Professions classes.  

  • What percentage are working as licensed lawyers?  
  • For those doing something different, where are they working?  
  • Has their legal education opened doors for them? 
  • Did those doors lead to interesting and remunerative work?

The After the JD Study is based on law school graduates who passed in the bar in the year 2000.  The Wave III results provide some clues to how at least one cohort of younger lawyers fared during their first ten years in practice.  

  • Roughly a quarter of the class of 2000 is no longer practicing law (remember the base sample excluded those who never took or passed the bar).
  • The migration out of practice is generally in the direction of private sector business.  
  • Ten years out, the median pay for full-time work is more than $100,000 for both men and women.  No tears need to be shed here.
  • Roughly three-quarters report being satisfied with their decision to attend law school. 

These statistics are generally encouraging, but some caution is in order, as the entry-level legal economy was quite different in 2000.  

Because of the law school transparency movement, we lack commensurable data between 2000 and 2013.  That is an important piece of information right there, as changes in collection and reporting standards were caused by student protests, including several lawsuits surrounding allegedly misleading employment data. Yet, we can cobble together some potentially useful comparisons:

Even if NALP's full-time legal positions in 2000 is a more expansive category than the ABA's full-time bar-passage jobs in 2013, the gap is startling -- over 20 percent!  Further, we have additional evidence of a major shift in the job market, as law firm summer associate positions have declined in size by more than 50% since in the early 2000s. See Henderson, Sea Change in the Legal Market, NALP Bulletin (Aug 2013).   Between 2008 and 2013, there has also been a drop in median starting salaries, from $72,000 to $62,500. See NALP, Employment for the Class of 2013 – Selected Findings

Demand Drops, but Supply Marchs On

Cumulatively, the trendlines presented in this essay suggest that we are on the tail end of a multi-decade structural shift in the legal economy.  So what comes next?

Law schools were recently taken to task in an editorial by the Young Lawyers Board of Philadelphia Legal Intelligencer.  See If Unchanged, Legal Education will Remain a Business in Decline, Legal Intelligencer, Sept 25, 2014.  According to the young lawyers, "One reason graduates have difficulty obtaining employment is that most of them need to be trained in how to practice law, and clients are unwilling to pay for training new lawyers. Law schools need to step up and train students on how to practice law."

I am very sympathetic to the young lawyers, but I think they are missing something essential.  A law school that improves the quality of its skills training reduces the training costs to prospective employers.  That is a good thing, but it does not change the underlying demand for legal services. And it appears that that demand is eroding on several fronts:  (a) wealthy corporations are balking at the price of outside counsel and looking for credible substitutes, (b) ordinary citizens are struggling to afford a lawyer at all, and (c) a new segment of the legal economy is emerging that is financed by nonlawyers and heavily focused on data, process, and technology, which taps into skill sets not traditionally taught in law school. See Henderson, A Counterpoint to "The most robust legal market that ever existed in this country", Legal Whiteboard, Mar 17, 2014.  

Conclusion

My own conclusion is that neither the organized bar nor the legal academy has a firm grip on the changes that are occurring in the legal marketplace.  This uncertainty and confusion is understandable in light of the magnitude of the shift.

Nonetheless, these market shifts create special urgency for legal educators because we can't teach what we don't understand.  The thesis of the Young Lawyers Board is surely right -- if unchanged, legal education will remain a business in decline.  Much of legal education today is premised on a 20th century professional archetype--an archetype that is, based on the data, becoming less and less relevant with each passing day.  Thus, we are under-serving our students.  And frankly, they are figuring that out.  

Change is hard for people and organizations they work in.  And law professors and law schools are no different.  The retooling of legal education will likely be a slow, painful process that will take the better part of a full generation to complete.  I am trying to do my part.

Yet, the brunt of the demographic shift falls on the licensed bar, which is getting older and thus weaker with each passing year.  This is a problem that belongs to the ABA, the state bars, and the state supreme courts, not the legal academy.   [PDF version of this essay]

October 12, 2014 in Data on the profession, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Artificial Intelligence and the Law

Plexus, a NewLaw law firm based in Australia, has just released a new legal product that purports to apply artificial intelligence to a relatively common, discrete legal issue -- detemining whether a proposed trade promotion (advertisement in US parlance) is in compliance with applicable law. 

In the video below, Plexus Managing Partner Andrew Mellett (who is a MBA, not a lawyer), observes that this type of legal work would ordinarily take four to six weeks to complete and cost several thousand dollars.  Mellett claims that the Plexus product can provide "a legal solution in 10 minutes" at 20% to 30% of the cost of the traditional consultative method -- no lawyer required, albeit Plexus lawyers were the indispensible architects for the underlying code. 

From the video, it is unclear whether the innovation is an expert system -- akin to what Neota Logic or KM Standards are creating -- or artificial intelligence (AI) in the spirit of machine learning used in some of the best predictive coding algorithms or IBM's Watson applied to legal problems.   Back when Richard Susskind published his PhD dissertation in 1987, Expert Systems In Law, an expert system was viewed as artificial intelligence--there was no terminology to speak of because the application of technology to law was embryonic.  Now we are well past birth, as dozen of companies in the legal industry are in the toolmaking business, some living on venture or angel funding and others turning a handsome profit.

My best guess is that Plexus's new innovation is an expert system.  But frankly, the distinction does not matter very much because both expert systems and AI as applied to law are entering early toddler stage.   Of course, that suggests that those of us now working in the legal field will soon be grappling with the growth spurt of legal tech adolescence.  For law and technology, it's Detroit circa 1905.  

September 4, 2014 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Data on legal education, Innovations in law, New and Noteworthy, Structural change, Video interviews | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

NewLaw, Innovation, and the Importance of Failure

FurlongJordan Furlong is one of the first-rate commentators on the legal industry. He is an excellent observer, a deep thinker, and skilled and stylish communicator.  

Over at Law 21, Jordan has written a set of companion essays that explain the ferment that is now taking hold in the legal industry.  Check them out if you need or want the seemingly complex made simple.

The first essay is a highly useful reference guide to NewLaw (#NewLaw), a category coined by the Australian consultant George Beaton.   Jordan modestly titled the essay "An Incomplete Inventory of NewLaw," but its alleged incompleteness does not distract from its usefulness.  Complicated things like new business models need to be organized and simplified before we can get our heads around them.  Here, Jordan creates a elegant typology and fills it out with example after example.  Before Jordan's essay, few of us could be sure we were discussing the same ideas or concepts.

One of Jordan's most noteworthy observation is that the talent side of NewLaw is appears to be growing faster in the UK (new models of organizing and delivering legal services and content) while the US seems to be getting the most traction in legal tech.  The former is likely due to liberalization of regulations that flow from the UK's Legal Services Act of 2007 and the latter from the proximity to venture funding.  To have similar legal ecosystems developing in different ways is bound to trigger consequences and interactions that we cannot fully anticipate. 

Jordan's second post is on the failure of legal innovation, which he points out is nothing more than the precursor long-term success.  See  "The Failure of Legal Innovation," Law 21, May 29, 2014.  I definitely agree.  When I look at the legal innovation space in 2014 -- and my frame for reference is LegalTech, LexRedux, ReInvent Law, some of the ABA Legal Rebels, and a lot of shoe-leather research on my part -- I think of Detroit in 1905.  There were roughly 125 car manufacturers and hundreds more in other parts of the country, as Detroit was not yet car capital of the world.  All of those business owners were right about one thing:  The car is the future.  But they wistful optimists about something else -- their car company is the future. 

A start-up is like a sapling in the woods -- the odds are against it ever growing to the treeline. Fortunately, in the start-up ecosystem good ideas and talented entrepreneurs never really lose.  Instead, they are rolled up into competitors to form the types of companies that can truly shape an entire new industry.  Along these lines, if I were working in investment banking these days, I would be trying to specialize in the legal sector, as the roll-ups in this space are going to be fast and furious in the years to come.  

Let's fasten our seatbelts.  The next several years are going to be time of great tranformation.

June 1, 2014 in Blog posts worth reading, Cross industry comparisons, Important research, Innovations in law, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What Ails the Large Law Firm? Will the Real FutureFirm Please Stand Up

TimeinabottleFive years ago this April, I helped organize a novel experiment on how to reengineer the modern law firm.  The occasion was FutureFirm 1.0, a collaborative competition in which teams of law firm partners, associates, and in-house lawyers to create a strategic plan for the fictional firm of Marbury & Madison (M&M).  The goal was a new business model that would enable the firm "to survive and thrive over the next 20 years."  See M&M Fact Pattern.   

We planned FutureFirm 1.0 in the fall of 2008, but by April 2009, things looked pretty unstable.  Deal flow had ground to a halt, and corporations were reluctant to fund noncrucial litigation.  Law firms in turn were rescinding offers to thousands of law students.  Further, the specter of law firm failure hung in the air.  Suffice it to say, the timing was not right for sharing the results of FutureFirm.  As a result, my analysis of the event, "What Ails the Large Law Firm?  Will the Real FutureFirm Please Stand Up," was never published or circulated.  

With five year anniversary of FutureFirm 1.0, I decided to uncork my time-in-a-bottle essay and post it on SSRN and JDSupra.  

Having not read this essay for five years, I am surprised at how well the FutureFirm analysis holds up.  Yet, the biggest takeaway from my FutureFirm experience is not the specifics of the analysis, but acclimating myself to the permanence of new change dynamic, much of which I can see through the participants of FurtureFirm 1.0.   

  • Two law firm partners subsequently left to start their own boutiques, one of which is aggressively moving into managed services in South Africa.  
  • Another law firm partner became a judge in King County, Washington (Seattle).
  • Several summer associates joined BigLaw only to leave within three or four years to become sophisticated in-house lawyers who are themselves driving change.
  • Several people in all roles have switched over to the business side.  Indeed, new legal businesses are actively being planned.

In the spring of 2014, the new normal is here to stay, and it has no froth.  FutureFirm was probably a fringe activity back in 2009.  Now, an event like FutureFirm would be one of the key places to go for answers.  Indeed, I have very serious senior in-house lawyers at Fortune 100 companies who want to run this type of colloborative competition to help better design tomorrow's legal departments.  So stay tuned for that.

I hope you are sufficiently curious to do a bit of time travel and give "What Ails the Large Law Firm?" a read.  I would welcome your thoughts and feedback. 

May 1, 2014 in Data on the profession, Innovations in law, Law Firms, Legal Departments, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Review of The Lawyer Bubble and Tomorrow's Lawyers

Harper_SusskindReaders might enjoy my forthcoming essay, Letting Go of Old Ideas, 112 Mich L Rev _ (2014), which reviews two important new books on the legal profession, Steven Harper's The Lawyer Bubble and Richard Susskind's Tomorrow's Lawyers. If you want to know why the legal profession circa 2014 is such a rich topic for study, here is a useful clue: Harper and Susskind both critically examine this topic yet come to dramatically different conclusions that neither overlap nor conflict with one another. The complexities run that deep.

Thanks to his prolific commentary in the legal press, Harper's critique is familar to many readers. He is angry with the elite legal establishment -- large law firms and the legal professoriate -- for succumbing to "a culture of short-termism" that focuses obsessively on the AmLaw and US News league tables.  As someone in the target group, I confess that I don't remember making a conscious decision to sell out.   Yet, here is the problem.  When all the facts in the public domain are arrayed by a skilled trial lawyer, the question can be asked, "why didn't you stand up to this nonsense?"  This is a classic example of diffusion of responsibility. When we are all equally responsible for upholding good behavior, no one is responsible.  Collective denial sets it, and the profession gets a black eye.  

Yet, to my mind, there is an avenue for at least partial redemption -- reading Richard Susskind's slender 165 page book.  In my Counterpoint essay, I lay out the mounting evidence that the legal industry is in the early stages of a sea change.  The best theoretical treatment of this sea change is Susskind's Tomorrow's Lawyers.  Yet, I am amazed at how many lawyers and law professors know essentially nothing about Susskind's work.  Tomorrow's Lawyers was written for law students.  It is a short, accessible book.  After reading the first two paragraphs, I doubt anyone with a long-term time horizon in the legal industry will put it down without finishing it:

This book is a short introduction to the future for young and aspiring lawyers.

Tomorrow’s legal world, as predicted and described here, bears little resemblance to that of the past. Legal Institutions and lawyers are at a crossroads, I claim, and are poised to change more radically over the next two decades than they have over the last two centuries. If you are a young lawyer, this revolution will happen on your watch. (p. xiii).

If you have not read Tomorrow's Lawyers, you may be setting yourself for a Kodak moment. 

March 30, 2014 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Important research, New and Noteworthy, Scholarship on legal education, Scholarship on the legal profession, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Counterpoint to "The most robust legal market that ever existed in this country"

There is a line in Professor Reich-Graefe's recent essay, Keep Calm and Carry On, 27 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 55 (2014), that is attracting a lot of interest among lawyers, law students, and legal academics: 

[R]ecent law school graduates and current and future law students are standing at the threshold of the most robust legal market that ever existed in this country—a legal market which will grow, exist for, and coincide with, their entire professional career.

This hopeful prediction is based on various trendlines, such as impending lawyer retirements, a massive intergenerational transfer of wealth that will take place over the coming decades, continued population growth, and the growing complexity of law and legal regulation.

Although I am bullish on future growth and dynamism in the legal industry, and I don't dispute the accuracy or relevance of any of the trendlines cited by Reich-Graefe, I think his primary prescriptive advice -- in essence, our problems will be cured with the passage of time -- is naive and potentially dangerous to those who follow it.

The Artisan Lawyer Cannot Keep Up

The primary defect in Reich-Graefe's analysis is that it is a one-sided argument that stacks up all impending positive trendlines without taking into account the substantial evidence that the artisan model of lawyering -- one-to-one consultative legal services that are tailored to the needs of individual clients -- is breaking down as a viable service delivery model.  

Lawyers serve two principal constituencies--individuals and organizations.  This is the Heinz-Laumann "Two-Hemisphere" theory that emerged from the Chicago Lawyers I and II studies.  See Heinz et al, Urban Lawyers (2005). The breakdown in the artisan model can be observed in both hemispheres.

  1. People.  Public defenders are understaffed, legal aid is overwhelmed, and courts are glutted with pro se litigants.  Remarkably, at the same time, record numbers of law school graduates are either unemployed or underemployed.  Why?  Because most poor and middle-class Americans cannot afford to buy several hours of a lawyer's time to solve their legal problems.  
  2. Organizations.  The most affluent organizations, multinational corporations, are also balking at the price of legal services.  As a result, foreign labor, technology, process, or some combination thereof has become a replacement for relatively expensive and unskilled junior lawyers.

The primary driver of this structural shift is the relentless growth in legal complexity.  This increase in complexity arises from many sources, including globalization, technology, digitally stored information, and the sheer size and scope of multinational companies. 

But here is a crucial point:  the complexity itself is not new, only its relative magnitude.  A century ago, as the modern industrial and administrative state was beginning to take shape, lawyers responded by organizing themselves into law firms.  The advent of law firms enabled lawyers to specialize and thus more cost-effectively tackle the more complex legal problems. Further, the diffusion of the partner-associate training model (sometimes referred to as the Cravath system) enabled firms to create more specialized human capital, which put them in an ideal position to benefit from the massive surge in demand for legal services that occurred throughout the 20th century.  See Henderson, Three Generations of Lawyers: Generalists, Specialists, Project Managers, 70 Maryland L Rev 373 (2011). 

The legal industry is at the point where it is no longer cost effective to deal with this growing complexity with ever larger armies of artisan-trained lawyers.  The key phrase here is cost effective.  Law firms are ready and willing to do the work.  But increasingly, clients are looking for credible substitutes on both the cost and quality fronts. Think car versus carriage, furnace versus chimney sweep, municipal water system versus a well.  A similar paradigm shift is now gaining momentum in law.

The New Legal Economy

I have generated the graph below as a way to show the relationship between economic growth, which is the engine of U.S. and world economies, and the legal complexity that accompanies it.

Complexity
This chart can be broken down into three phases.

1. Rise of the law firm. From the early twentieth century to the early 1980s, the increasing complexity of law could be capability handled by additional law firm growth and specialization. Hire more junior lawyers, promote the best ones partner, lease more office space, repeat.  The complexity line has a clear bend it in.  But for most lawyers, the change is/was very gradual and feels/felt like a simple linear progression.  Hence, there was little urgency about the need for new methods of production.

2. Higher law firm profits. Over the last few decades, the complexity of law outpaced overall economic growth.  However, because the change was gradual, law firms, particularly those with brand names, enjoyed enough market power to perennially increase billing rates without significantly improving service offerings.  Corporate clients paid because the economic benefits of the legal work outweighed the higher costs.  Lower and middle class individuals, in contrast, bought fewer legal services because they could not afford them. But as a profession, we barely noticed, primarily because the corporate market was booming. See Henderson, Letting Go of Old Ideas, 114 Mich L Rev 101 (2014).

3. Search for substitutes.  Laws firms are feeling discomfort these days because the old formula -- hire, promote, lease more space, increase rates, repeat -- is no longer working.  This is because clients are increasingly open to alternative methods of solving legal problems, and the higher profits of the last few decades have attracted new entrants.  These alternatives are some combination of better, faster, and cheaper.   But what they all share in common is a greater reliance on technology, process, and data, which are all modes of problemsolving that are not within the training or tradition of lawyers or legal educators.  So the way forward is profoundly interdisciplinary, requiring collaboration with information technologists, systems engineers, project managers, data analysts, and experts in marketing and finance.

Why is this framework potentially difficult for many lawyers, law firms, and legal educators to accept?  Probably because it requires us to cope with uncertainties related to income and status.  This reluctance to accept an unpleasant message creates an appetite for analyses that say "keep calm and carry on."  This is arguably good advice to the British citizenry headed into war (the origin of the saying) but bad advice to members of a legal guild who need to adapt to changing economic conditions.

There is a tremendous silver lining in this analysis.  Law is a profoundly critical component of the globalized, interconnected, and highly regulated world we are entering.  Lawyers, law firms, and legal educators who adapt to these changing conditions are going to be in high demand and will likely prosper economically.  Further, at an institutional level, there is also the potential for new hierarchies to emerge that will rival and eventually supplant the old guard.

Examples

Logo-kcuraOne of the virtues of lawyers is that we demand examples before we believe something to be true.  This skepticism has benefited many a client.  A good example of the emerging legal economy is the Available Positions webpage for kCura, which is a software company that focuses exclusively on the legal industry. 

The current legal job market is terrible, right?  Perhaps for entry-level artisan-trained lawyers.  But at kCura, business is booming. Founded in 2001, the company now employs over 370+ workers and has openings for over 40 full-time professional positions, the majority of which are in Chicago at the company's LaSalle Street headquarters.  Very few of these jobs require a law degree -- yet the output of the company enables lawyers to do their work faster and more accurately.  

What are the jobs?

  • API Technical Writer [API = Application Programming Interface]
  • Big Data Architect - Software Engineering
  • Business Analyst
  • Enterprise Account Manager
  • Group Product Manager
  • Litigation Support Advice Analyst
  • Manager - Software Engineering
  • Marketing Associate
  • Marketing Specialist -- Communications
  • Marketing Specialist -- Corporate Communications and Social Media
  • Product Manager -- Software and Applications Development
  • QA Software Engineer -- Performance [QA = Quality Assurance]
  • Scrum Team Coordinator [Scrum is a team-based software development methodology]
  • Senior SalesForce Administrator 
  • Software Engineer (one in Chicago, another in Portland)
  • Software Engineer (Front-End Developer) [Front-End = what the client sees]
  • Software Engineer in Test [Test = finds and fixes software bugs]
  • Technical Architect
  • Technical Architect - Security
  • VP of Product Development and Engineering

kCura operates exclusively within the legal industry, yet it has all the hallmarks of a great technology company. In the last few years it has racked up numerous awards based on the quality of its products, its stellar growth rate, and the workplace quality of life enjoyed by its employees.

KCuraawards

That is just what is happening at kCura.  There are many other companies positioning themselves to take advantage of the growth opportunities in legal, albeit none of them bear any resemblance to traditional law firms or legal employers.

LexRedux-Eventbrite-headerIn early February, I attended a meeting in New York City of LexRedux, which is comprised of entrepreneurs working in the legal start-up space.  In a 2008 essay entitled "Legal Barriers to Innovation," Professor Gillian Hadfield queried, "Where are the 'garage guys' in law?"  Well, we now know they exist.  At LexRedux, roughly 100 people working in the legal tech start-up space were jammed into a large open room in SoHo as a small group of angel investors and venture capitalists fielded questions on a wide range of topics related to operations, sales, and venture funding.

According to Angel's List, there are as of this writing 434 companies identified as legal start-ups that have received outside capital.  According to LexRedux founder Josh Kubicki, the legal sector took in $458M in start-up funding in 2013, up from essentially zero in 2008.  See Kubicki, 2013 was a Big Year for Legal Startups; 2014 Could Be Bigger, Tech Cocktail, Feb 14, 2014.

The legal tech sector is starting to take shape.  Why?  Because the imperfections and inefficiencies inherent in the artisan model create a tremendous economic opportunity for new entrants.  For a long period of time, many commentators believed that this type of entrepreneurial ferment would be impossible so long as Rule 5.4 was in place.  But in recent years, it has become crystal clear that when it comes to organizational clients where the decisionmaker for the buyer is a licensed lawyer (likely accounting for over half of the U.S. legal economy) everything up until the courthouse door or the client counseling moment can be disaggregated into a legal input or legal product that can be provided by entities owned and controlled by nonlawyers. See Henderson, Is Axiom the Bellwether of Legal Disruption in the Legal Industry? Legal Whiteboard, Nov 13, 2013.

The Legal Ecosystem of the Future

Book-tomorrows-lawyersIn his most recent book, Tomorrow's Lawyers, Richard Susskind describes a dynamic legal economy that bares little resemblance to the legal economy of the past 200 years.  In years past, it was easier to be skeptical of Susskind because his predictions seemed so, well, futuristic and abstract.  But anyone paying close attention can see evidence of a new legal ecosystem beginning to take shape that very much fits the Susskind model.

Susskind's core framework is the movement of legal work along a five-part continuum, from bespoke to standardized to systematized to productized to commoditized.  Lawyers are most confortable in the bespoke realm because it reflects our training and makes us indispensible to a resolution.  Yet, the basic forces of capitalism pull the legal industry toward the commoditized end of the spectrum because the bespoke method of production is incapable of keeping up with the needs of a complex, interconnected, and highly regulated global economy. 

According to Susskind, the sweet spot on the continuum is between systematized and productized, as this enables the legal solution provider to "make money while you sleep."  The cost of remaining in this position (that is, to avoid commoditization) is continuous innovation.  Suffice it to say, lawyers are unlikely to make the cut if they choose to hunker down in the artisan guild and eschew collaboration with other disciplines.

Below is a chart I have generated that attempts to summarize and describe the new legal ecosystem that is now taking shape [click-on to enlarge].  The y-axis is the Heinz-Laumann two-hemisphere framework.  The x-axis is Susskind's five-part change continuum. 

Ecosystem
Those of us who are trained as lawyers and have worked in law firms will have mental frames of reference that are on the left side of the green zone.  We tend to see things from the perspective of the artisan lawyer.  That is our training and socialization, and many of us have prospered as members of the artisan guild.

Conversely, at the commoditized end of the continuum, businesses organized and financed by nonlawyers have entered the legal industry in order to tap into portion of the market that can no longer be cost-effectively serviced by licensed U.S. lawyers.  Yet, like most businesses, they are seeking ways to climb the value chain and grow into higher margin work.  For example, United Lex is one of the leading legal process outsourcers (LPOs).  Although United Lex maintains a substantial workforce in India, they are investing heavily in process, data analytics, and U.S. onshore facilities.  Why?  Because they want to differientiate the company based on quality and overall value-add to clients, thus staving off competition from law firms or other LPOs.

In the green zone are several new clusters of companies:

  • NewLaw.  These are non-law firm legal service organizations that provide high-end services to highly sophisticated corporations.  They also rely heavily on process, technology, and data.  Their offerings are sometimes called "managed services." Novus Law, Axiom, Elevate, and Radiant Law are some of the leading companies in this space. 
  • TechLaw.  These companies would not be confused with law firms. They are primarily tool makers.  Their tools facilitate better, faster, or cheaper legal output.  kCura, mentioned above, works primarily in the e-discovery space.  Lex Machina provides analytic tools that inform the strategy and valuation of IP litigation cases.  KM Standards, Neota Logic, and Exemplify provide tools and platforms that facilitate transactional practice.  In the future, these companies may open the door to the standardization of a wide array of commercial transactions.  And standardization drives down transaction costs and increases legal certainty -- all good from the client's perspective.
  • PeopleLaw.  These companies are using innovative business models to tap into the latent people hemisphere.  Modria is a venture capital-financed online dispute resolution company with DNA that traces back to PayPal and the Harvard Negotiations Workshop.  See Would You Bet on the Future of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)?  Legal Whiteboard, Oct 20, 2013.  LegalForce is already an online tour de force in trademarks -- a service virtually every small business needs.  The company is attempting to translate its brand loyalty in trademarks into to new consumer-friendly storefront experience.  Its first store is in the heart of University Avenue in Palo Alto.  LegalForce wants to be the virtual and physical portal that start-up entrepreneurs turn to when looking for legal advice.

Conclusion

When I write about the changes occurring in the legal marketplace, I worry whether the substance and methodology of U.S. legal education provides an excellent education for a legal world that is gradually fading away, and very little preparation for the highly interdisciplinary legal world that is coming into being. 

Legal educators are fiduciaries to our students and institutions. It is our job to worry about them and for them and act accordingly.  Surely, the minimum acceptable response to the facts at hand is unease and a willingness to engage in deliberation and planning.  Although I agree we need to stay calm, I disagree that we need to carry on.  The great law schools of the 21st century will be those that adapt and change to keep pace with the legal needs of the citizenry and broader society.  And that task has barely begun.

[PDF version]

March 17, 2014 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Data on legal education, Data on the profession, Innovations in law, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Scholarship on legal education, Scholarship on the legal profession, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (16)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

THOUGHTS ON FALL 2013 ENROLLMENT AND PROFILE DATA AMONG LAW SCHOOLS

DECLINING ENROLLMENT – Between fall 2012 and fall 2013, the 199 law schools in the 48 contiguous states and Hawaii (excluding the Puerto Rican schools) accredited by the ABA’s Section for Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, experienced the following first-year enrollment changes:

25 schools had a decline in first-year enrollment of 25% or more,

34 schools had a decline in first-year enrollment of 15%-24.99%,

44 schools had a decline in first-year enrollment of 5% to 14.99%,

62 schools had “flat” first-year enrollment of -4.99% to 4.99%,

19 schools had an increase in first-year enrollment of  5% and 14.99%, and

15 schools had an increase in first-year enrollment of 15% or more.

Overall, more than half (103) had a decrease in first-year enrollment of at least 5%, while roughly 17% (34) had an increase in first-year enrollment of at least 5%.

Across these 199 schools, first-year enrollment declined from 42,590 to 39,109, a decrease of 8.2%.  The average decline in first-year enrollment across U.S. News “tiers” of law schools was 2.6% among top 50 schools, 8.2% among schools ranked 51-99, 7.7% among schools ranked 100-144 and 7.9% among schools ranked alphabetically.

            Between fall 2010 and fall 2013, the 195 law schools in the 48 contiguous states and Hawaii fully-accredited by the ABA’s Section for Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar as of 2010 (excluding Belmont, LaVerne, California-Irvine, and Massachusetts-Dartmouth), experienced the following first-year enrollment changes:

            28 schools had a decline in first-year enrollment of 40% or more,

            29 schools had a decline in first-year enrollment of 30% to 39.99%

            43 schools had a decline in first-year enrollment of 20% to 29.99%

            43 schools had a decline in first-year enrollment of 10% to 19.99%

            36 schools had a decline in first-year enrollment of 0% to 9.99%

            10 schools had an increase in first-year enrollment of 0.01%to 9.99%

            6 schools had an increase in first-year enrollment of 10% or more.

Overall, more than half (100) had a decrease in first-year enrollment of at least 20%, while only roughly 8% (16) had any increase in first-year enrollment.

            Across these 195 schools, first-year enrollment declined from 50,408 to 38,773, a drop of 23.1%.  The average decline in first-year enrollment across U.S. News “tiers” of law schools was 14.7% among top 50 schools, 22.5% among schools ranked 51-99, 22.8% among schools ranked 100-144, and 26.8% among schools ranked alphabetically. 

 

DECLINING PROFILES -- Across the 195 law schools in the 48 contiguous states and Hawaii fully-accredited by the ABA’s Section for Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar as of 2010 (thus excluding Belmont, LaVerne, California-Irvine, and Massachusetts-Dartmouth) the entering first-year class average LSAT profile fell one point at all three measures between 2012 and 2013, from 159.6/157/153.5 to 158.6/156/152.5.  The entering first-year class average LSAT profile fell roughly two points at all three measures between 2010 and 2013, from 160.5/158.1/155.2 to 158.6/156/152.5. 

The average decline in median LSAT scores between 2012 and 2013 across U.S. News “tiers” of law schools was .98 among top 50 schools, 1.18 among schools ranked 51-99, .72 among schools ranked 100-144, and 1.13 among schools ranked alphabetically. 

Notably, 133 law schools saw a decline in their median LSAT between 2012 and 2013, with 80 down one point, 38 down two points, 12 down three points, one down four points, one down five points and one down six points, while 54 law schools were flat and 7 saw an increase in their median LSAT. 

In terms of schools experiencing “larger” declines in median LSAT scores between 2012 and 2013, five schools in the top 50 saw a three point decline in their median LSAT, five schools ranked 51-99 saw at least a three point decline (of which one was down four points), three schools ranked 100-144 saw a three point decline, and two schools ranked alphabetically saw large declines – one of five points and one of six points.

The average decline in median LSAT scores between 2010 and 2013 across U.S. News “tiers” of law schools was 1.54 among top 50 schools, 2.27 among schools ranked 51-99, 2.11 among schools ranked 100-144, and 2.79 among schools ranked alphabetically.  If one were to unpack the top 50 schools a little more, however, one would discover that the top 20 schools saw an average decline in their median LSAT of 1.05 between 2010 and 2013, while the bottom 15 schools in the top 50 saw an average decline in their median LSAT of 2.53.

In terms of schools experiencing “larger” declines in median LSAT scores between 2010 and 2013, three schools in the top 50 have seen declines of four or more points, nine schools ranked 51-99 have seen declines of four or more points, 11 schools ranked 100-144 have seen declines of four or more points and 17 schools ranked alphabetically have seen declines of four or more points. 

When looking at the 2012-13 data in comparison with the 2010-2013 data, one sees that lower ranked schools have had more of a sustained challenge in terms of managing profile over the last few years, while schools ranked in the top 50 or top 100 had been managing profile fairly well until fall 2013 when the decreased number of high LSAT applicants really began to manifest itself in terms of impacting the LSAT profiles of highly ranked schools.

The overall decline in the LSAT profile of first-year students also can be demonstrated with two other reference points.  In 2010, there were 74 law schools with a median LSAT of 160; in 2013, that number has fallen to 56.  At the other end of the spectrum, in 2010, there were only 9 schools with a median LSAT of less than 150 and only one with a median LSAT of 145.  In 2013, the number of law schools with a median LSAT of less than 150 has more than tripled to 32, while the number of law schools with a median LSAT of 145 or less now numbers 9 (with the low now being a 143).

 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS – Over the last three years, few schools have had the luxury of being able to hold enrollment (or come close to holding enrollment) and being able to hold profile (or come close to holding profile).  Many schools have found themselves in a “pick your poison” scenario.  A number of schools have picked profile and made an effort to hold profile or come close to holding profile by absorbing significant declines in first-year enrollment (and the corresponding loss of revenue).  By contrast, a number of schools have picked enrollment and made an effort to hold enrollment or come close to holding enrollment (and maintaining revenue) but at the expense of absorbing a significant decline in LSAT profile.  Some schools, however, haven’t even been able to pick their poison.  For these schools, the last three years have presented something of a double whammy, as the schools have experienced both significant declines in first-year enrollment (and the corresponding loss of revenue) and significant declines in profile. 

March 2, 2014 in Data on legal education, Scholarship on legal education, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Is the Employment Market for Law Graduates Going to be Improving?

Last fall, while making a presentation at the Midwest Association of Pre-Law Advisors Conference in St. Louis, I had the opportunity to respond to the question that is the title of this blog posting. 

Is the employment market for law graduates going to be improving?  My answer was, and is, almost certainly yes, although perhaps not immediately.

I write this to offer my perspective on the employment market for law graduates in the coming years.  A number of people have written on this topic in recent weeks and months.  Bernie Burk has a very thoughtful piece analyzing the changing job market over the last three decades.  In his concluding thoughts he suggests that the decline in the number of law students will mean that the job market will be improving.  Paula Young, Debby Merritt, Matt Leichter, and The National Jurist, also have weighed in on this issue with some disagreement about how to understand the “market” for law graduates in the coming years.  Whether and how to include JD Advantage jobs in the analysis is something that is frequently contested.  Bernie Burk does a thorough job analyzing the challenges of assessing whether JD Advantage jobs should be included within his definition of “law jobs” – “placements for which a law degree is typically a necessary or extremely valuable substantive preparation; or put slightly differently, jobs that a law degree typically makes a truly substantial and significant difference in obtaining or performing.”

To avoid some of these definitional challenges, this post will focus solely on the market for full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs. Initially, it will analyze those jobs in relation to all graduates; then it will look more specifically at the percentage of graduates who are likely to be eligible for Bar Passage Required jobs for whom full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs likely will be available, a point on which few others appear to have focused up until now.

Class of 2013 – Little if Any Good News is Likely

In the short term, for the Class of 2013, for which job results will be reported in the coming weeks, it would not be at all surprising to see little, if any, improvement in the employment results in terms of the percentage of graduates finding jobs classified as full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs.

According to NALP’s data, there were 29,978 full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs for 2007 graduates, a number which fell to 24,902 for 2011 graduates, and then rebounded to 26,876 for 2012 graduates, an increase of 1,974.   According to the ABA’s Employment Outcomes data, between 2011 and 2012, the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs grew from 24,149 to 26,066, an increase of 1,917.  (For this blog posting, I am not going to try to reconcile the slight differences in data between NALP and the ABA’s Employment Outcomes data.)

Unfortunately, however, according to the ABA's Employment Outcomes data, this growth in full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs between 2011 and 2012 corresponded with a growth in the number of law graduates, from 43,979 to 46,364, an increase of 2,385.  Thus, even though the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs grew by 7.9%, the percentage of graduates in full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs grew only slightly, from 54.9% to 56.2%.

Between 2012 and 2013 the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs may increase again, but the number of graduates also will be increasing, likely from 46,364 to roughly 47,250.  (For the last few years, the number of law school graduates has averaged roughly 90% of the number of first-year students who started law school three years previously.  With 52,500 first-year students in Fall 2010, there likely were roughly 47,250 May 2013 graduates on whom employment will be reported in the coming weeks.) 

If the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs for the 2013 graduates reported in the ABA Employment Outcomes data grows by roughly 1,000 to 27,000, an increase of nearly 4%, the percentage of graduates with such jobs would increase only slightly to 57.1%.  If the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs for the 2013 graduates grows only slightly, by roughly 500, to 26,500 (an increase of less than 2%), the percentage of graduates with such jobs will drop slightly, to 56.1%.  If the number of Bar Passage Required jobs is flat, at 26,000, the percentage of graduates with such jobs will drop a little more to 55%.  Between 2011 and 2013, the market might see graduates finding roughly 2,000 to 2,500 new full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs, and yet still see only 55% to 57% of graduates in such jobs because of the growth in the number of graduates between 2011 and 2013.

Classes of 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 – An Improving Dynamic

What are the employment prospects for those currently in law school or considering starting law school in the fall of 2014?  They almost certainly will be getting better – not necessarily because there will be more jobs, but because there will be fewer graduates.

Indeed, to make this point, let’s assume that there is actually no further growth in full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs between 2012 and 2017.  Assume the number of such jobs plateaus at 26,000 for graduates of the Class of 2013 and then stays at that level each year through 2017.  What percentage of law graduates over the next four years will have such jobs? 

According to the LSAC, "ABA First-Year Enrollment" has declined steadily from 2010 to the present, from 52,500 in 2010, to 48,700 in Fall 2011, to 44,500 in Fall 2012.  The ABA recently released the Fall 2013 enrollment summary noting that it had fallen to 39,675.   The LSAC's most recent Current Volume Summary, from February 21, 2014,  indicates that applicants to law school are down roughly 11% compared to last year.  Thus, it seems reasonable to project that first-year matriculants will decline again in Fall 2014.  If first-year enrollment falls by 5%, that would give us roughly 37,700 first-years.  If it falls by 10% once again, that would give us roughly 35,700 first-years.

With these estimates for the number of first-years, we can estimate the number of graduates (which, as noted above, has averaged roughly 90% of first-years for the last few years).  Even if the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs does not continue to rebound, but plateaus at 26,000, as the number of graduates declines over the next few years, the percentage of law graduates obtaining a full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required job, as shown in Table 1, will grow to between 77% and 84% by 2017 (depending upon first-year enrollment in fall 2014).

TABLE 1

Analysis of the Estimated Number of Full-Time, Long-Term Bar Passage Required Jobs as a Percentage of the Estimated Number of Law Graduates from 2012-2017

   

Grad. Year

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2017

 

(5% Dec.)

(10% Dec.)

 

(1st Yrs 3 Yrs Prior)

 

51600

 

52500

 

48700

 

44500

 

39675

 

37700*

 

35700*

 
 

Grads (90% of 1st Yrs.)

 

46364

 

47250*

 

43830*

 

40050*

 

35708*

 

33930*

 

32130*

 
 

FT/LT BPR Jobs

26066

26000*

26000*

26000*

26000*

26000*

26000*

 

% of Grads in FT/LT BPR Jobs

 

56%

 

55%*

 

59%*

 

65%*

 

73%*

 

77%*

 

84%*

 

*Denotes estimated value.

An improvement in the number of law school graduates getting full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs, from roughly 55% to between 77% and 84% is indicative of an improving employment market for law school graduates.  Indeed, according to Bernie Burk’s analysis of the employment market over the last few decades, this rate of employment in full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs would rival or exceed the high water mark for “Law Jobs” of roughly 77% that he identified as having been experienced by the graduates from 2005 to 2007.  (And for his purposes, “Law Jobs” included some JD Advantage jobs.)  Moreover, this assumes no growth in the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs; if there is even modest growth in the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs over the next few years, the percentages of grads in these jobs would be even higher than reflected in this chart.

 Full-Time, Long-Term Bar Passage Required Jobs as a Percentage of Those Eligible for Such Positions by Virtue of Having Passed a Bar Exam

Even so, many may look at this and suggest the market remains less than robust given that perhaps 16%-23% of graduates in this “improved” market in 2017 will not obtain full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs. While some compare the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs to the number of law school graduates to demonstrate why the employment market for law school graduates remains unsatisfactory, this may not be the most accurate way of thinking about the market for full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs as not all graduates are going to be eligible for Bar Passage Required jobs.

Among those graduating from law schools accredited by the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and taking a bar exam upon graduation, the National Conference of Bar Examiners indicates that over the last several years, on average, roughly 83% of graduates of ABA-accredited law schools pass the bar exam on their first attempt. 

To calculate the employment market for law graduates in the coming years who are eligible for full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs, let’s assume that all law graduates actually want a full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required job and therefore take a July bar exam, and let’s assume that 83% of them pass the bar exam on their first attempt.  This should give us the maximum number of graduates eligible for full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs 10 months after graduation (which will be the measuring point starting with the Class of 2014). 

Even if we assume no growth in the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs in the coming years and simply hold the number of such jobs at a constant 26,000, the decreasing number of law graduates will mean an even more improved employment market for those seeking full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs who will be eligible for those jobs by virtue of having passed the bar exam on their first attempt, increasing from nearly 70% in 2012 and 2013 to nearly 90% by 2016 and over 90% by 2017.

 TABLE 2

Analysis of the Estimated Number of Full-Time, Long-Term Bar Passage Required Jobs as a Percentage of the Estimated Number of Law Graduates Eligible for Bar Passage Required Jobs from 2012-2017 

Graduating Year

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2017

 

First   Year Enrollment

 

51600

 

52500

 

48700

 

44500

 

39675

 

37700*

(5% Dec.)

 

35700*

(10% Dec.)

 
 
 

Graduates   (90% of First Year Enrollment)

 

46364

 

47250*

 

43830*

 

40050*

 

35708*

 

33930*

 

32130*

 

83% of   Graduates (NCBE Avg. for First-Time Takers)

 

38482*

 

39218*

 

36379*

 

33242

 

29638*

 

28162*

 

26668*

 
 

FT/LT Bar   Passage Jobs

 

26066

 

26000*

 

26000*

 

26000*

 

26000*

 

26000*

 

26000*

 

Percentage   of Graduates Who Might Pass the Bar for whom FT/LT Bar Passage Jobs Likely   Would be Available

 

68%*

 

66%*

 

71%*

 

78%*

 

88%*

 

92%*

 

97%*

 

 *Denotes estimated value.

Notably, these estimates probably overstate the number of graduates who will be eligible for Bar Passage Required jobs.  First, not all law school graduates want to take a bar exam as some conclude that they are not interested in practicing law as a licensed attorney.  Second, given the increasing number of law school matriculants with LSATs less than 150, one could anticipate a slightly higher rate of attrition such that fewer than 90% of matriculants graduate after three years.  Third, given the increasing number of law school matriculants with LSATs less than 150, one also could anticipate that the historical average bar passage rate of 83% might be too generous.  All of these points suggest that the number of graduates eligible for full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs may decline between now and 2017 even more than is indicated in Table 2.    

Between 2012 and 2013 to 2016 and 2017, we will have gone from having nearly seven full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs for every ten graduates eligible for such positions by virtue of having passed a bar exam to having nine or more full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs for every ten graduates eligible for such positions by virtue of having passed a bar exam. That strikes me as an improving employment market.

Of course, this may not be good news for those who graduated in the last few years into one of the toughest markets in history.  It is not clear that this improving market will be improving for them.  But it also is not clear that this "excess capacity" will unduly constrain the opportunities available to law school graduates in the coming years.  This excess capacity already has been impacting the market, yet the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs obtained within nine months of graduation grew by nearly 2000 between 2011 and 2012.  That is one reason I think the assumption of no further growth in full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs is probably fairly conservative. 

In addition, this may not be good news for those who fail to pass the bar exam on their first try and may have to look for jobs that do not require bar passage.  While a significant percentage of these graduates will pass the bar exam on their second attempt and may eventually find employment in full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required positions, it may take several months longer than they had desired and may require that they pursue other employment, perhaps JD Advantage employment, during the intervening months.  

Even assuming a flat market for full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs, as a result of significant declines in first-year enrollment that will mean a significant decline in the number of law school graduates in 2016 and 2017, we should be moving from having slightly more than three of ten graduates who were eligible for Bar Passage Required jobs in 2012 who could not find them to having less than one of ten graduates in 2017 who likely will be eligible for Bar Passage Required jobs who cannot find them.  While individual schools and local or regional markets may have more varied results on a "micro level," on a "macro level" this should be good news for current first-year students and students considering starting law school in the fall of 2014.

Whether this improving employment situation will be enough to change the trend in terms of declining number of applicants to law school remains to be seen.  While the future may be brightening, the "news" in the coming weeks will be the report on employment outcomes for 2013 graduates nine months after graduation.  As noted above, that may be somewhat uninspiring because any increase in the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs may be masked by the larger number of graduates in 2013 compared to 2012.  As a result, potential law school applicants may remain reluctant to make the commitment of time and money that law school requires because the "good news" message regarding future employment prospects for law graduates may fail to gain traction if the messages about employment outcomes for recent law school graduates continue to be less than encouraging.

March 1, 2014 in Data on legal education, Data on the profession, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (8)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Did the Market for Law Firm Associates Peak 25 Years Ago?

Based on the chart below, which reflects 35 years of large law firm data, the answer appears to be yes.  The chart enables us to compare two very simple trendlines: the percentage of lawyers in NLJ 250 law firms who have the title of Associates versus the percentage with the title of Partner. 

Figure1

The chart above was generated by my colleague, Evan Parker-Stephen, who is Director of Analytics at Lawyer Metrics.  I asked Evan to crunch these data after some of research I was working on revealed a 50% decline in Summer Associate hiring between 2002 and 2012 at the ~600 law firms listed in the NALP Directory (11,302 to 5,584). In other words, 2008 is the wrong reference point. See Sea Change, NALP Bulletin (Aug 2013).  Something more substantial was (is) happening.

Indeed, the 35-year graphic above provides a true wide-angle view, which in turn reveals an absolutely remarkable story.  Associates were most integral to the large law firm model over 25 years ago.  Although large law firms went on a hirng spree at various points during the 1990s and 2000s, the firms themselves were simultaneously adding a new layer of human capital that was neither associate or partner/owner.  And in the process, associates were gradually being marginalized. The graph below (also NLJ 250 data) reveals the growing middle section of the so-called Diamond Model:

Figure2_highres

So what does all this mean?  

My best analysis is set forth in a short research monograph I wrote with Evan, entitled "The Diamond Law Firm: A New Model or the Pyramid Unraveling?"  The punchline is that large law firms appear to be chasing short-term profits at the expense of longer-term sustainability.  It would not be the first industry sector to lose its competitive advantage through myopic strategy -- as the saying goes, nothing fails like success.  See Henderson, Three Generations of U.S. Lawyers: Generalist, Specialist, Project Manager.  Large firms are not going extinct.  But as a matter of demographics, they are greying.  If BigLaw were trading on the Nasdaq, the analysts would be very critical of this trend.  

December 8, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Data on the profession, Important research, Law Firms, New and Noteworthy, Scholarship on the legal profession, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (9)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

From Big Law to Lean Law

RibsteinIn 2012, Bruce Kobayashi and the George Mason Law & Economics Center organized an ambitious conference series entitled, "Unlocking the Law: Building on the Work of Professor Larry Ribstein."  The collective work product has recently been published in the International Review of Law & Economics.  

My contribution was an essay entitled "From Big Law to Lean Law."  It is a  review of Larry's seminal "The Death of Big Law" article, with the benefit of three years of data and the gradual realization that the entire legal profession is on the brink of a major structural transformation.

The "Death of Big Law"  first appeared on SSRN in the fall of 2009.  The following spring, I attended the annual Georgetown Center on the Legal Profession conference, where Larry's analysis and conclusions were presented to a large audience of Big Law partners, including managing partner commentators.  Suffice to say, the reaction was one of polite bafflement.

"From Big Law to Lean Law" was my best attempt to serve as a translator, albeit with the benefit of three years of market data and hindsight.  Here is the abstract

In a provocative 2009 essay entitled The Death of Big Law, the late Larry Ribstein predicted the shrinkage, devolution, and ultimate demise of the traditional large law firm. At the time virtually no practicing lawyer took Larry seriously. The nation’s large firms were only one year removed from record revenues and profits. Several decades of relentless growth had conditioned all of us to expect the inevitable rebound. Similarly, few law professors (including me) grasped the full reach of Larry’s analysis. His essay was not just another academic analysis. Rather, he was describing a seismic paradigm shift that would profoundly disrupt the economics of legal education and cast into doubt nearly a century of academic conventions. Suffice to say, the events of the last three years have made us humbler and wiser.

This essay revisits Larry’s seminal essay. Its primary goal is to make Larry’s original thesis much more tractable and concrete. It consists of three main pillars: (1) the organizational mindset and incentive structures that blinds large law partners to the gravity of their long-term business problems; (2) a specific rather than abstract description of the technologies and entrepreneurs that are gradually eating away at the work that has traditionally belonged to Big Law; and (3) the economics of the coming “Lean Law” era. With these data in hand, we can begin the difficult process of letting go of old ideas and architecting new institutions that better fit the needs of a 21st century economy.

(SSRN link.)  In the service of explaining these complex market dynamics to lawyers, legal educators, and law students, I am posting the figures used in the paper, which can be downloaded from Slideshare.

December 1, 2013 in Data on the profession, Important research, Law Firms, Scholarship on the legal profession, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Sleeping Giant -- Hope and Purpose for Law Students

KatzjpgIf you have the courage and curiosity to understand the breadth and depth of the changes taking shape in the legal market, then I would encourage you to use some of your Thanksgiving break to read "Recalculate the Future of Law," which is Insight Lab's interview with MSU Law Professor Dan Katz.    

It is all-too-easy to believe that innovation occurs in the wake of a great idea, but that is not quite right.  Innovation is also about timing and understanding how human institutions are held together and change and evolve.  If the innovator has the benefit of timing and understands how human institutions actually work, an effective adoption strategy is possible.  

Fortunately, for Dan Katz, all of these factors appear to be in alignment. Katz is acutely aware of his timing and the myriad of factors that enable innovation to take hold.  He is also young (35 years old) and has the courage to place very large bets -- the largest bet being that he is not waiting to get tenure before starting his life's work.  He is doing it now in his third year of teaching.  

But to mind, there is some additional secret sauce.  What makes Katz so disruptive is his 100% personal commitment to the growth and potential of his students. He is awaking the sleeping giant -- hope and a sense of purpose for young people.  Specificially law students.  If you are in his ReInvent Law Labratory, you see a different legal landscape with a whole lot more options. But to tap into that hope, Dan makes you do the work.  You have to challenge yourself.  And you have to shed the bullshit phobia over basic math. He is building a community of interest that has the potential to morph into a movement driven by young lawyers and law graduates.  For more on Katz's unusual bio, see "This is just an education design problem," LWB, Sept 23, 2013.  

 The interviewer over at Insight Labs got pretty close to the full, uneditted Dan. If you want to learn about the underinvestment problem that is undermining BigLaw, the crucial role of start-ups in the emerging field of legal R&D, how the next generation of law students can do well and do good, or the real hazards of the $1 Million JD debate, give it a full read.

November 27, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Innovations in law, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"Ten Years After—Where We Have Been and Where We Are Going"

MonicaBayThat is the title of a panel at the Annual Georgetown Advanced E-Discovery Institute conference.  In an article in Law Technology News, Monica Bay does a wonderful job summarizing what appears to have been a lively, thought-provoking discussion. I can't do better than Monica, but I so want to highlight some of quotes that really caught my eye:

[DC Federal Magistrate Judge] Facciola served as moderator, and threw the first question at Butterfield [partner at Hausfeld], who dove right into a discussion of the explosion of data creation, citing a laundry list of impressive facts, including that "every minute of every day Google receives two million queries ... 571 websites are created every minute ... and more than 200 million emails are sent every minute. We are communicating in ways that didn't exist 20 years ago," he said. ... 

Facciola asked Butterfield if he was troubled by the outsourcing of e-discovery to nonlawyers and/or machines. "I do see the tension because lawyers must certify the work," Butterfield acknowledged. ... 

Facciola then turned to [SDNY District Court Judge Shria] Scheindlin, who shifted the focus to the courts. "All cases are now e-discovery cases," she asserted. "Even the littlest cases have e-discovery, everyone has to know how to do it," she said. ... 

Scheindlin said we are entering an era of a divide between the "technology haves and technology have-nots," and noted that small firms may not be able to afford the start-up costs that e-discovery requires. She reminded the audience that not every litigant can afford a lawyer. "Twenty-five percent of my cases are pro se," she said. ... 

Facciola then posed the question of whether lawyers as a group welcome technology and change.

"I think the reality is that most lawyers are not innovators and are afraid of technology," offered Redgrave. "There is a reality that to have continued value, lawyers need to understand technology. ... " 

Asked Facciola: "Is this 'Star Trek'?" Scheindlin jumped in: "Of course trials will change—the question is, will we have trials anymore?" Scheindlin noted that routine technology, such as GPS, cellphones, Facebook and other location tools are changing our daily reality to the point where it's increasingly easy to prove facts. "There are no conversations any more, it's emails and texts. We will know where folks are," she said. ...  Technology is making it so we always know where people are; thus no need for alibi witnesses."  ...

Finally, lawyers need to abandon the "gladiator" role that is imprinted in law school, the panelists asserted, taking strong pokes at the current status of law schools.

"Do I think legal education is keeping up [with technology and cooperation]? Absolutely not.... 

Scheindlin warned academia that they need to get with the reality. "I think the notion of a two-year law school is coming, with the third year clerking." But, she qualified, "I wouldn't be surprised if law schools turn around. The younger generation is more tech savvy than we are. Many lawyers are technophobic, but the next generation is growing up with technology."

That was quite a provocative exchange, and not by legal futurists, but judges and practicing lawyers presiding over cases in federal court. 

Related post:

November 24, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Bringing the Disruption of the Legal Services Market into the Law School Classroom

Is it important to help law students understand the disruptions that are now occurring in the legal industry?  Well, let me ask a more fundamental question.  How can a law professor efficiently obtain better information on these complex and diffuse changes? None of us legal academics are experts in this area, and that's a problem in and of itself.

In the process of struggling with these questions, I decided to carve out 15% of the grade in my Corporations class for team-based profiles of NewLaw companies.  Here is how I described the conundrum in my syllabus:

The legal industry is changing in dramatic ways, including the creation of new legal businesses that rely upon technology and process design to solve legal problems that have traditionally been handled by lawyers. These businesses are often financed and managed by nonlawyers, which some of you may find surprising. ...

Remarkably, very few practicing lawyers grasp the type of industry context described above ...  Yet, the influx of financiers and technologists is likely going to have a dramatic effect on your future legal careers.  These changes are extremely foreign to the substance of traditional legal education – we (the legal professoriate) just don’t understand the breadth and depth of the changes that are now occurring.  Rather than sweep this uncomfortable fact under the rug, let’s do what great lawyers do with their clients.  Let’s learn about the business and the industry so that we understand the context.  Armed with this information, we can make better decisions with regard to our own careers.

Two months ago, I circulated the full assignment to the class, divided the class into teams, and gave students two weeks to select a company.  The only restrictions were no duplicates, so first-come first-serve, and the company had to be a non-law firm business operating, partially or entirely, in the legal industry.  (BTW, JB Ruhl's Law Practice 2050 course at Vanderbilt Law tackles this topic head-on.)

Students made their presentations this past Monday evening (Nov. 18) in Indiana Law's Moot Courtroom.  It was a marathon session that ran nearly four hours.  Because of the novel content, several practicing lawyers showed up to see the presentations. The following companies where profiled:

  • AdvanceLaw.  Privately held company that operates a closed community of legal departments who share information on law firms and individual lawyers in order obtain better quality at a lower cost.  Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Axiom Law.  Venture and private equity-based company that helps legal departments more efficiently manage and source their legal needs. Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Black Hills IP.  Privately held onshoring company that does highly specialized IP-related paralegal work -- their internal motto is "innovate and automate."  Founders were involved in an earlier LPO that sold to CPA Global a few year ago. Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Datacert.  An e-billing platform for legal departments that has added on a large overlay of data analytics so legal departments can more aggressively benchmark and monitor their expenses to outside counsel.
  • Ernst & Young.  Big Four accounting firm that hires an enormous number of law grads each year for its tax and consulting practices.  Very much set up for the tastes and preferences of Millenial professionals including training, work space, and work-life balance.
  • Exemplify.  Start-up company founded by Professor Robert Anderson at Pepperdine Law and his student.  Used super computer technology and inductive computational linguistics to identify the market standard language in a myriad of forms found in the SEC Edgar database. Will speed up negotiations on what is "market"; setting stage for eventual market convergence on standards.
  • Huron Consulting.  Publicly held consulting firm that formed out of the ashes of Arthur Anderson's post-Enron collapse.  Although a business consulting organization, a surprisingly large part of their business is e-discovery through attorneys in U.S. and India.  This group trudged through the company's 10Ks, which was a great educational experiemce for them. Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Integreon.  Venture- and private equity-based LPO that has tried to distinguish itself with its global platform and language capabilities.  The company recently cut a deal with Microsoft to handle a large tranche of their patent portfolio work.
  • KM Standards.  Privately held legal knowledge management company that is trying to deconstruct the logic of contracts into standardized terms to enable autonmation and reduce ambiguity (and thus litigation).  Potentially very disruptive.
  • LegalForce.  Privately held company hoping to recapture the lost consumer and start-up market through a novel storefront strategy.  Financed at least initially through LegalForce's  enormously successful online trademark practice run by the company's founder, Raj Abhjanker.  More trademarks granted by PTO than any other law firm.
  • Manzama.  Privately held company in Bend, Oregon that scrapes the Internet with machine learning technology to filter business intelligence for law firms and other professional service firms track.  Enormously scalable. Daily results presented through a dashboard technology. 
  • Modria.  Online dispute resolution system that enables businesses and governments (mostly municipalities) to avoid costly, in-person legal proceedings to resolve a steady stream of similar disputes that are part of running a business or government. Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Neota Logic.  Privately held company founded by former Davis Polk partner and CIO Michael Mills.  The company specializes in the creation of expert systems that can improve the quality and efficiency of many transactional and compliance related activities.  
  • Pangea3.  LPO with substantial operations in India.  Initially back by venture capital in 2004 but subsequently sold to Thomas Reuters in 2010.  Employs roughly 1,000 lawyers in the US and India.  Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Recommind.  Privately held company that specialized in predictive coding for use in document review and e-discovery.  Founders were graduate students in Artificial Intelligence programs at Stanford and UC Berkeley in early 1990s.  Discussed on the LWB here
  • Stewart Richardson.  A privately held Indianapolis-based deposition services company that has gradually and successfully expanded into a broader array of law firm support services.  Very focused on technology to make the job of clients easier.  

The assignment was an experiment, albeit one that worked very well.  Both students and the visiting lawyers reported surprise at the depth and breadth of the innovations taking holding the legal market.  

Although some of the innovations where clearly eroding the need for traditional legal service jobs, the profiles also revealed the tremendous opportunities for those willing to stretch into the law and technology space.  Many students commented that the evening drove home the point that they need to proactively obtain new skills and knowledge.  Why? Because the emerging market has no secure place for the complacent or mediocre.  Better for them to discover it in the course of an assignment than for me to say and have it fall on deaf ears.

Many thanks to the profiled company, who exhibited enormous generosity in helping my students complete this assignment.   Remarkably, most groups had the benefit of a lengthy conference call with senior leadership.  My only regret is that more practicing lawyers did not attend.  My students, who have have 1L team and presentation experience, brought their "A" game.  I will fix that in the next class, as there is no shortage of NewLaw companies to be profiled. 

November 23, 2013 in Current events, Data on the profession, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Important research, Innovations in legal education, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (1)