Hard numbers

As I’ve mentioned before (including yesterday), everybody seems to be beating up the legal job market these days.  The American Bar Association apparently decided that it was time to inject some actual numbers into the discussion:

[Most prior discussion has] been based in great part on the tools of journalism: anecdote, instinct and the oft-competing wisdom of any experts we can find.

With this issue, however, the ABA Journal is offering our readers a new—and we believe different—view of the business and the profession.

We’ve teamed up with a nationally recognized expert on trends in the legal profession, William D. Henderson of the Center on the Global Legal Profession at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. We asked Henderson, a pioneer in the empirical study of the legal industry, to identify and map the movements of jobs and money.

There’s a separate page that allows county-by-county data searching.

Here’s the thing:  based on my look at the publicly available U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, underlying the ABA’s “report”, I’m not quite sure what the ABA has added to the discussion here.  Sure, they’ve generated some colorful graphs and county-by-county maps.  But as far as I can tell, all (and I do mean all) of this data has been around since at least May 14, 2010.  And it’s not like the ABA has done much analysis here; they’ve basically just sorted the size of salaries out by metro region and announced a few “surprises”.

Even more problematically, I’m not sure there are many clear takeaways due to the inherent shortcomings of this data.  Per the bottom of the article’s main page:

The [U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics] data are a representative sample of employed lawyers. The sample includes lawyers employed in law firms, state and local government, federal government, in-house lawyers in businesses, and nonprofits. Lawyers, as defined by the BLS classification (SOC), “represent clients in criminal and civil litigation and other legal proceedings, draw up legal documents, and manage or advise clients on legal transactions. May specialize in a single area or may practice broadly in many areas of law.” Equity partners and solo practitioners are not included in the survey. [emphasis added]

In other words:

  1. This data leaves out solo practitioners — fully 35% of all lawyers according to Harvard Law School’s research.  Analysis:  these salary numbers skew high.  (I suppose the lack of focus on solos isn’t too surprising since only about 7% of all solos belong to the ABA anyway.)
  2. This data only applies to employed lawyers.  Analysis:  This article tells us nothing about the marginal earning prospects of unemployed lawyers, including recently graduated J.D.’s who are “temporarily” employed in other industries (e.g., as servers in restaurants).

I get that this is “the first installment of a periodic series.”  But come on, ABA.  It’s more than a little disingenuous to claim that “the ABA Journal is offering our readers a new—and we believe different—view of the business and the profession” by “identify[ing] and map[ing] the movements of jobs and money” when you’re simply re-publishing eight month old government data with an arguably misleading slant and without substantive analysis.

2 Responses - Add Yours+

  1. […] he crunched some of the numbers of attorneys in the U.S. based on 2009 BLS data on his own blog, Legally Sociable, where goes by Sagescape. Now, I use the 2008 data because it includes self-employed lawyers […]

  2. Brian says:

    The mapping and regional data could be interesting, even if the data is flawed. But even there, wouldn’t it be useful to include some ratio or measure that accounts for cost-of-living across regions/states?

    As you note, their analysis may not add much to the discussion. But would the average lawyer go through the actual data themselves or prefer to read about it from a reputable source?

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