Another day, another jobs report for the legal market. This time, it’s that the percentage of last year’s grads who are employed held steady at 86.7%, which is good, but down from a pre-recession high of 91.9%. The problem with these sorts of job reports is that there is just too much noise and not enough signal. If you look at things one way, the market is rebounding. Churn the statistics a different way, and everything is terrible. Worse, none of this information helps anyone get a job or decide what sort of job to pursue.
There are more practical ways to slice and dice employment data, such as figuring out which states have an over- or under-supply of lawyers and which states are pumping too many new grads into their legal market. Armed with that knowledge, it might be possible to predict where a new job is most attainable or where hanging out your shingle would result in success (and, conversely, which states have a completely saturated landscape.)
At the national level, the United States has 40 lawyers for every 10,000 people, but those lawyers are absurdly maldistributed. For lawyers per capita by state, it’s unsurprising to learn that Washington D.C., New York, and Massachusetts top the list. D.C. is, understandably, ridiculously higher than everywhere else, with 774 lawyers per 10,000 residents. New York is second, with 87 lawyers per 10,000 people.
At the bottom are lots of states with vast tracts of rural land: North and South Dakota, Idaho, and Arkansas, all clocking in around 20-22 lawyers per 10,000 people. Those are states where it seems like more attorneys are needed, but there’s a problem: 10,000 people in, say, North Dakota are a lot more far-flung than 10,000 people in Massachusetts.
Aspiring young attorneys that are willing to relocate might find fertile ground in rural locations but will also need to make a commitment to being highly mobile to serve a more scattered population.
It’s useful to compare the per capita information to law school overproduction. If you compare the average number of jobs per year that the Bureau of Labor and Statistics thinks a particular state market will add to the average yearly number of law school grads in that same state, you can see which states are overproducing.
Vermont oversupplies its market the most, with 5.43 new law grads for every available law job, but Vermont is also likely an outlier given a tiny population. Massachusetts is next, with 5.15 grads for every job. Couple that with the fact that Massachusetts is already oversupplied per capita, and you should probably avoid Massachusetts. Skip Illinois as well. They’ve already got 49.2 lawyers per 10,000 people and 2.75 new lawyers for every projected new job.
At the bottom are, again, states with a smaller population scattered across a relatively huge amount of land: Colorado, Nevada, and Alaska are so undersupplied that they actually don’t have enough projected law grads for each new job over the last ten years. These numbers hold if you zoom out a bit as well: examined by region, the Northeast has way too many lawyers and the Rocky Mountains have way too few.
While it would be useful to be able to drill down a bit further and see what parts of which states are experiencing over- or under-supply of attorneys, there’s one inescapable trend here: rural states need more lawyers and well-populated states generally have too many. If you’re not tied to a particular location, you might want to head to a less populated state to ply your wares.