The coronavirus pandemic has created not only a public health crisis, but an economic crisis not seen since the Great Depression. Virtually every industry has been negatively affected including the legal profession.
Despite a new normal that includes court proceedings via teleconference and remote workforces, a recent survey published in the American Bar Association found law firm billings have been down every month since March, including a staggering 23% decrease in May compared to the same month in 2019.
As a result, law firms across the country have resorted to layoffs, hiring freezes, and other cost-cutting measures. The pandemic has not only is affecting working lawyers with mortgages and families, it’s also impacting current law students. Many students lost out on a year of in-person learning and because a good deal of summer associate programs were cancelled, some lost the salary they need to support themselves year-round.
While on the surface, this sounds and looks very bleak for the industry, a closer look at historical context shows it is not all doom and gloom. A recent McKinsey report found law firms endure economic downturns better than the overall economy. When looking at the three most recent recessions, law firms only saw a decline in revenue during the 2008-09 financial crisis and it was less severe than the overall economy. During the 2001 and 2009 recessions, law firm revenue actual continued to grow with U.S. GDP plummeted.
While this current pandemic is certainly unprecedented, if past is prologue, the legal profession will rebound strongly. As we approach 2021 with a vaccine in sight, demand will undoubtedly resume — whether that is pivoting to certain areas of law in direct response to the pandemic or a return to normal. However, as revenue returns there will be an increase in competition for jobs created. Which is why in 2021 it will be more critical than ever to know where the most job openings will be.
Where Is The Job Growth for Lawyers?
To help determine where the jobs will be, we did an analysis of state-by-state data on lawyer jobs released by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Projections Central. The states with the highest populations like California and New York obviously have the most openings, however, they also have the most applicants and are ultra-competitive and the hardest to get.
To better ascertain which markets may offer the best opportunities, we did a deeper dive into the data. Below we look at which states will the biggest increase in jobs in 2021 when compared to 2019 — the last full year data set available by BLS. Here are the findings:
According to the projections, the number one state for lawyers in 2021 is Alabama. Driven by an impressive 6.6% growth rate, the opportunities for lawyers in the Heart of Dixie look to outpace all other states in the country. Southern states make up three of the top five states in the rankings, with North Carolina and South Carolina claiming spots four and five, respectively.
Some of the typical lawyer strongholds throughout the country perform well in the rankings. Massachusetts — famous for top law schools such as Harvard University, Boston College, Boston University, and Northeastern University, — sits close to the top at number six on the list, while Washington, D.C. — with top schools Georgetown University and George Washington University — secures number 15.
When looking at all 50 states plus the nation’s capital, only 5 states are actually poised to lose jobs for lawyers. The worst news is for those wishing to practice in Idaho, which is projected to post a -4.5% loss in jobs for lawyers in 2020. Ohio — home to the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University — was just outside of the top 10 in terms of number of jobs in 2019, but projections show a -.4% loss for 2021.
The data does not indicate an overriding macro trend as to why some states are seeing increases or decreases. There are any number of local factors unique to each state that may affect these outcomes. The data does, however, reveal employment trends that can help job seekers make practical informed career decisions.
COVID-19 Impact on Law School, LSAT Scores and Starting Salaries
Above we looked at the impact the pandemic may have on working lawyers and current law students. Below we take a look at how COVID-19 will impact law school enrollment and the future generation of legal minds.
The Law School Admission Council revealed that the number of applicants to U.S. law schools so far this year is around 35% higher than it was at this point last year. This surge in law school enrollment is consistent with historical trends. US News reported that the number of those preparing to take the LSAT increased by more than 20% during the Great Recession. The reasoning behind it is that law students will not have to deal with the lowest lows of a recession while they’re in school and will instead enter a market a few years later that’s on the upswing.
The flip side to that coin is with a 35% increase in applicants, it will be significantly harder for people to get into the school of their choice. That is why law school applicants must be prepared to excel in each different part of the LSAT including logic and reading comprehension. There is a direct correlation between LSAT scores, which law school a student attends, and their expected starting salary. Below we have analyzed the data and list the top school and LSAT score needed in each state, along with the median associate starting salary in that state.
2020 presented unprecedented challenges for practicing lawyers and law school applicants alike. However, challenging times are always followed by periods of growth and opportunity. Empowered by the insights above, law professionals, law students, and those taking LSAT courses can make decisions with renewed confidence that will benefit them in 2021 and beyond.