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The Bureau of Labor Statistics has changed the way it calculates job openings in the legal profession, producing a rosy outlook for law grads in 2016.

The bureau’s new method of calculating workers leaving an occupation who need to be replaced no longer relies on the assumption that workers enter at a young age, work in their field until they are old, and then retire, according to Loyola at Los Angeles law professor Theodore Soto, writing at TaxProf Blog. Workers no longer follow a traditional career path, and the old method failed to capture many people leaving law jobs, the bureau concluded.

Now the Bureau of Labor Statistics will directly measure workers who leave occupations, based on survey results. The bureau made the change after testing both measures of job openings against historical data, including data for lawyers.

ABA data collected since 2011 shows an average of 29,000 law grads find positions requiring bar passage each year, and that doesn’t include grads who clerk or take other jobs who later find JD-required positions. Yet the bureau’s old method projected an average of only 19,560 lawyer jobs each year.

The new method projects 41,460 lawyer openings a year, according to Soto.

“Based on 2012 and 2013 matriculation rates and historical drop-out rates,” Soto writes, “we should expect 40,082 ABA-accredited law school graduates in 2015 and 35,954 in 2016. If the new BLS projections are accurate, we should see demand and supply in relative equilibrium in 2015 and a significant excess of demand over supply beginning in 2016.”

The Law School Tuition Bubble criticized the statistical change in a post noted by TaxProf Blog on Tuesday. The author of the Law School Tuition Bubble, lawyer Matt Leichter, sees a problem with the bureau’s assumptions.

First, Leichter writes, the BLS is assuming that everyone who leaves a lawyer job is doing so because there is a better alternative available. “The new methodology automatically rejects the possibility that new entrants force out existing ones,” he writes.

Leichter also says the new methodology yields “an unbelievable replacement rate.” If the new stats were correct, “there should never have been a backlog to begin with, and it’s something we should have heard about by now,” he says.


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