Good news for lawyers as employment increases again; Silicon Valley lawyers get a hefty pay raise

Continuing a decades old trend, employment of lawyers increased yet again from May, 2017 to May, 2018, in the latest data released today, March 29, 2019, by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. (The data excludes partners, who are not defined as “employees,” and may also exclude some solo practitioners.)

Nationally, there were 642,750 people employed as lawyers as of May 2018 compared to 628,370 a year earlier, representing an increase (net of retirements, deaths, and changes of employment) of 14,380 lawyers.

The pace of increase is noticeably greater than what the BLS reported last year (i.e., 2017 v. 2016). I reported on the earlier data here. This year (i.e., May 2017-2018) employment numbers increased by 2.2% versus 1.4% a year earlier (i.e., May 2016-2017).

Incomes were up, yet again, as in every year but one over the last two decades. The mean wage as of 2018 was $144,230 and the median was $120,910. This compares to $141,890 and $119,250 for the prior year. However, the increases of approximately 1.6% (for mean) and 1.3% (medians) were slightly behind the rate of inflation of 2.1% during the years 2016 and 201. (Inflation has now slowed to an annualized rate of 1.5%).

The good news includes my region, Silicon Valley. Lawyers here remain the highest paid in the nation (albeit with a very high cost of living) at $207,950 (mean) compared to $198,100 last year. This represents a 4.9% increase, a healthy pace well ahead of the national rate of inflation. There are now 5,610 lawyers in the region compared to 5,470 last year. These upward moves continue a longterm trend of improved employment and incomes.

I began tracking this data several years ago because it contradicted the dour narrative being peddled by the so-called “law school scammers” who attempted to claim that the legal profession was collapsing. While demand for legal education grew significantly in the first decade of the new century, it dropped dramatically in the early years of the second decade.

But the labor market itself, as indicated by the BLS data, indicated a fairly stable occupation, with incomes and employment growing in almost every year over the last two decades.

The demand for legal education has begun to rebound recently with double digit increases in LSAT test taking now being reported by the Law School Admissions Council.