I had the pleasure recently of hearing a talk by Professor Bernie Burk from UNC Law School based on his paper, What’s New About the New Normal: The Evolving Market for New Lawyers in the 21st Century. His paper demonstrates empirically that entry-level hiring by BigLaw has contracted at six times the rate of other sectors of the legal services market. Burk then goes on to argue in plausible and balanced fashion that the contraction in BigLaw hiring is a structural rather than a cyclical change that reflects fundamental changes in the pricing and delivery of legal services.
My main takeaway from the paper concerns the impact of what some have described as ‘the death of BigLaw’ (see, for example here and here) on the rest of the market. Fewer BigLaw entry-level jobs for highly qualified Ivy Leaguers and T-14ers means that there is a trickle down effect. As Burk puts it early on in the paper:
‘Though [BigLaw] has historically hired only 10%-20% of each graduating class, it is responsible for over half the entry-level Law Jobs lost since 2008. And because BigLaw historically has hired a disproportionate number of the candidates most attractive to employers, this contraction has sent a new cohort of highly accomplished and credentialed law graduates previously absorbed by BigLaw into competition for non-BigLaw jobs, disrupting common understandings regarding where new graduates with particular ranges of credentials could expect to find work. These findings suggest that the changes in and to BigLaw are driving the changes in the entry-level Law Jobs market more generally.’
If you buy the structural argument (I do), there are some fairly obvious implications for law schools, like my own, that are outside the so-called elite. The sustained decline in law school applicants indicates that a market correction is already well under way. The time for us to grapple with the short and long term implications of the ‘new normal’ for the product that we offer and how we price and deliver it is clearly long overdue.