Sunday, October 19, 2014

Update On the Aging of Lawyers in Private Practice

What Happens When 
Baby Boomers Retire?

In April 2013, I wrote about the possible opportunities for new lawyers created by the increasing age of lawyers -- who will eventually retire. 

Bill Henderson, of The Legal Whiteboard blog, provides a very interesting analysis of his data on this topic here.  One of his findings:
The big surprise here is that the proportion of young lawyers (under age 35) has been declining for several decades. And not by a little, but by a lot. During this period, the median age went from 39 in 1980, to 41 in 1991, to 45 in 2000, to 49 in 2005.
Some of his conclusions:
The analysis above suggests that the JD Advantage / JD Preferred employment market started to take shape several decades ago, long before these terms were put in place by the ABA and NALP. Yet, we really don't know about these careers. To construct a more useful, informative narrative, we'd have to systematically study the career paths of our alumni. That task is long overdue.
I blogged on the JD Advantage market here and here.

More of Henderson's conclusions:  
My own conclusion is that neither the organized bar nor the legal academy has a firm grip on the changes that are occurring in the legal marketplace. This uncertainty and confusion is understandable in light of the magnitude of the shift. 
Nonetheless, these market shifts create special urgency for legal educators because we can't teach what we don't understand. The thesis of the Young Lawyers Board is surely right -- if unchanged, legal education will remain a business in decline. Much of legal education today is premised on a 20th century professional archetype--an archetype that is, based on the data, becoming less and less relevant with each passing day. Thus, we are under-serving our students. And frankly, they are figuring that out.

Change is hard for people and organizations they work in. And law professors and law schools are no different. The retooling of legal education will likely be a slow, painful process that will take the better part of a full generation to complete. I am trying to do my part. 
Yet, the brunt of the demographic shift falls on the licensed bar, which is getting older and thus weaker with each passing year. This is a problem that belongs to the ABA, the state bars, and the state supreme courts, not the legal academy.

Nov. 18, 2014 Update:  For a graphic and more cynical look at this topic, see here

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