The Legal Job Market and What To Blog About It
A commentator to another thread chided me for our blog’s relative lack of focus on the rapidly imploding law employment market. We have given sporadic attention to this topic since the pace of law firm layoffs has accelerated. Instead, as the commentator noted, we’ve been generally focused on our usual concerns: writing, the legal academic job market, privacy, cyberlaw, etc. That’s about par for the course for most law professor blogs, from Volokh to Prawfs to the Conglomerate.
You might be tempted to think that this absence is evidence of us being insulated fat cats, who don’t know or care about what’s happening with our students. But I think you’d be wrong.
For me, the reason is simple: comparative advantage. I read Above the Law daily, but I don’t have much to add to their terrific coverage. The underlying economics of the great recession are similarly not something I have much new to add to, though we’ve tried (on the blog) to talk about different ways the law could respond to systemic failure. I assume most readers of this blog have read Bill Henderson’s work on law firm economics and Ribstein’s stuff on leverage, which is a reason that the job market is freezing up. (Though not a complete reason.) A minor point that I have thought about is the role of law schools in making the system worse: I’ve written that law school should be cheaper and shorter, and that the only way to really make that happen is to set schools free of certain ABA-accreditation constraints.
Given all that, I honestly don’t know what more I’ve to add about the effects of the recession on the market for lawyers. If, like every downturn since the 1930s, the economy rebounds in the near-term, I hope that the effect won’t be Generation OMG, JD. If we see structural changes – - the permanent loss of domestic finance transactional work in response to outsourcing, a movement toward Britain’s model of less exclusive attorney licensing, etc. – - then things will be different. It would strike me that any really drastic change in the economics of the legal profession would be more likely to harm expensive private institutions than cheaper public ones, assuming that state funding is somewhat stable (when compared to endowment returns). But I’ve got no crystal ball, and it strikes me as sort of a waste of time to pontificate about wicked things this way coming.
I’d rather stick to things I know about, plodding away, trying to make legal rules and their relationship to individual behavior more clear. It’s a way to stay sane.