Most robust legal market ever just around the corner, study says

Recent, current and future law school graduates will experience one of the best legal markets in the country, according to a recent study.

The study, conducted by Western New England University School of Law professor Renè Reich-Graefe, came to five conclusions which led Reich-Graefe to believe that the legal market will improve. The paper concluded that the legal market will not only be the “most robust legal market that ever existed in this country,” but also that this market will last throughout the entirety of recent, current and certain future law school graduates’ careers.

“Over the next two decades, the legal profession market is moving statistically into the direction of almost guaranteed legal employment for all law school graduates,” he said.

According to Reich-Graefe, there will be about 520,000 currently employed lawyers retiring by 2030, requiring new lawyers to fill these positions. He also determined that there will be an additional 156,000 new jobs available as the need for lawyers continues to grow. He added that, due to population increases, more than 166 thousand lawyers will be needed to meet the demands of the growing population.

Combining these numbers, Reich-Graefe predicted that there will be a total of 842,479 additional newly employed lawyers between 2010 and 2030.

These projections led Reich-Graefe to conclude that the legal market isn’t going to be as challenging as it was once predicted to be, and that future lawyers will likely face a better legal market.

“As a result, future law school graduates can expect soon to secure better legal jobs, have more opportunity to move laterally and earn higher incomes over the next two decades and beyond than has been the case for the last thirty years — even when they enter and remain within the legal services market with lesser professional credentials and qualifications as compared to market entrants and participants during the last three decades,” Reich-Graefe said. 

Reich-Graefe’s projects that more than “half of currently practicing lawyers in this country will retire over the next fifteen to twenty years.”

The median age of lawyers increased from 39 years in 1980 to 49 years in 2005. Additionally, he Reich-Graefe found that in 2005, more than 62 percent of all lawyers licensed in the United States were 45 years old or older.

He said the current annual rate of retirement for lawyers will double over the next ten years, and will triple over the next fifteen years. To determine the predicted rate of retirement, Reich-Graefe considered how many students graduated between 1964 and 1979, a time when the number of annual law school graduates increased by about 345 percent. He estimated that many of these lawyers would be between 59 and 74 years old, and would likely retire within the next fifteen years.

The population of the United States was another factor Reich-Graefe considered while establishing his predictions. He projected that the population of the United States will increase by more than 100 million people, or one third, until 2060. This, he predicted, will increase the demand for legal services accordingly.

“Put simply,” he wrote, “the more people, the more legal issues and the more demand for legal services.”

Reich-Graefe projected that over the next 45 years, the demand for legal services within the United States will increase by nearly one third above the current need. This demand should require an additional 25 percent to 30 percent increase in the number of lawyers needed to meet the rising demand.

Another projection Reich-Graefe made was that the “two largest generational wealth transfers in the history of mankind . . . will occur in the United States over the  course of the next 30 to 40 years, thus, increasing the total demand for legal services even further.”

He predicted the two transfers in wealth will peak between 2026 and 2046, meaning that 10 percent or more of the total wealth in the country will be transferred to another generation every five years. This is significant, according to Reich-Graefe, because lawyers hold the monopoly on assisting clients with these transfers of money.

Additionally, Reich-Graefe predicted that the legal world will continue to change and become more complicated, all while the need for legal services increases.