Managing the demand and supply of lawyers (pre and post law school obstacles)

After reading an interesting post over at the Faculty Lounge on Israel’s recent extension of their article/trainee period to two years from one year, a few thoughts came to mind. The first is about the Israeli legal education supply of lawyers context in comparison to that of the US, and the second is about the Australian (and other) legal system’s management of the supply and demand for lawyers.

1. Israeli Legal Education Context.  Consideration of the Israeli supply of lawyers context in comparison to that of the US raises a few issues: the fact that: the US has 40 times the population of Israel; that there are over 200 US law schools versus 10 in Israel; and that there are roughly 40000 US law grads versus 1800 in Israel.  In other words  – in comparison to the US, Israel is producing significantly more lawyers per population (almost twice as many)  from significantly more law schools per population (twice as many).  And most of us think there is excess legal education capacity in the US.  This suggests a legal education excess capacity problem in Israel.

One solution to such an excess capacity problem is, as the post discusses,  to make it harder to become a lawyer – scaring off new entrants and demanding greater commitments from those that manage to make it.  The US does this through a few devices, including the demand for a first degree before starting law school (tuition and lost income during those undergrad years means a student investment up front of at least $100,000 if not many times that) and a post law school bar exam (that is passable by any conscientious law grad after putting in the four months needed alongside attending a bar prep program).  Arguably the Israeli two year internship costs the future lawyer less and may perhaps show what practice may be like, hence winnowing out those for whom it would be unsuitable.  But, as the Faculty lounge post suggests, neither is a perfect solution.

2. Applicability to Australia and beyond. The second thought that came to mind from the post was a result of my concern over a growing excess capacity problem in Australian legal education (and in other systems as well).  I thus wondered whether Israel’s proposed solution to their excess legal graduate capacity problem might have any relevance for Australia and others.  Australia, like Israel, also has too many law schools and too many law graduates (see my earlier post).  But, like all systems Australia also has barriers that might winnow out those insufficiently committed to the career or for whom the cost-benefit or risk analysis of securing that law job does not work.  Those barriers may include a double degree for LLB students or a prior degree for JD students followed by a relatively short trainee/study post law school requirement (e.g. College of Law plus some work experience).  Some LLB programs do not require the double degree, but the short post law school trainee/education period is still required.

There are many different approaches around the world to manage demand and supply of lawyers (another is the the strict limitations on the number of law schools).  But the diversity of approaches all have their own pros and cons.  Managing the demand for and supply of lawyers is complex and difficult.  Accordingly, it would seem to be a task for all of those involved in the process (the law schools, the different professional bodies, the regulators, and the courts) to work together.  It is also a task which should be informed through comparative consideration of foreign approaches (comparative consideration means treading carefully – considering the different contexts and functions and avoiding the usual pitfalls associated with transplantation).

Colin Picker

4 thoughts on “Managing the demand and supply of lawyers (pre and post law school obstacles)

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  1. Thank you for this Colin. I confess to finding it hard to get concerned about the ‘oversupply of lawyers’ issue. Perhaps my saying so will elicit some helpful guidance towards being concerned.

    It has been the case for many years that many law graduates go on to work in careers other than legal practice. A general capacity for analytical thinking, and the benefit of another degree, demonstrably give law graduates other options.

    For those (relatively few) who graduate really wanting to work in legal practice, there are options that many are not prepared to countenance, in suburban and regional practice, and in government and public agencies. Reporting of the legal employment market is skewed towards the vagaries of city commercial practice, and my feeling is that the ‘oversupply’ is to a large extent a reflection of that very limited but disproportionately emphasised market.

    And it is a market. A market in which law graduates enjoy distinct advantages, and which goes through cycles. I am not sure it is incumbent on law schools to manage the flow of who choose to be part of it. If students choose law, so be it. Mindful of where they might go and what they might do with their degrees, we should be teaching law quite differently from the conventional approach, but that seems to me to be a different issue.


    Simon Rice


    1. I think today that it is the case that the majority of LLB students as they approach the end of their studies wish to practice law upon graduation (this is borne out by recent surveys which indicate it is in fact a large majority) and for sure almost all JDs (a very large cohort in Australia now) wish to practice law.

      I agree that the law degree is suitable training and preparation for many careers. But, that does not mitigate the fact that a very large number of law graduates are frustrated in their desire to pursue a career as a lawyer of one form or another.

      I also agree that it is not the law schools alone that should manage this issue, but they should still be a part of the conversation and be willing to take part in the development of suitable responses to an increasingly tough law career market.

      We do a disservice to our present, past and future students by not addressing this issue. At UNSW among other approaches, was our recent creation of a Careers Services office within the law school – headed by Joanne Glanz who has decades of experience in the legal job placement market. But, the issue, of course, goes beyond UNSW.


  2. The real challenge in Australia is the “tragedy of the commons” problem. The double degree means that other faculties in a university benefit from having more law students (since the degree can maintain demand with a higher ATAR entry score than other faculties). So law schools take more students (it is growing, despite occasional short periods of stability at some institutions). So more law grads, but actually a shrinking job market due to efficiencies (eg big firms no longer need as many junior lawyers for discovery due to better tools). And no single player can help because even if one law school defied its university and took fewer students, the others wouldn’t. IE we need a conversation before we can get to solutions.


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