April 6, 2012 2:56 PM

Legal Sector Shed 1,300 Jobs in March

Posted by Sara Randazzo

After gaining jobs for two straight months, the legal sector lost 1,300 positions in March, according to preliminary data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Friday’s report recorded 1,116,400 legal sector positions last month, down from the 18-month high the industry hit in February. The bureau’s revised data also showed that the legal sector gained 1,900 jobs in January rather than the 1,000 originally estimated.

The latest figures aside, the legal industry continues to employ far fewer people than it did prior to the recession, when it was common for the bureau to record 1,180,000 legal employees in a given month.

The broader U.S. economy gained 120,000 jobs in March, according to the data released Friday. The nation’s unemployment rate dropped to a three-year low of 8.2 percent from February’s 8.3 percent. Analysts interviewed by The New York Times labeled the jobs data disappointing given expectations that March would be the fourth consecutive month of “solid employment growth.”

Friday’s report is the second dose of bad employment news for the legal sector in recent days.

In a March 29 report examining the job outlook for the industry, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that the number of lawyers practicing in the country will grow 10 percent between 2010 and 2020—from 728,000 to 801,800.

At the same time, the report said, “growth in demand for lawyers will be constrained as businesses increasingly use large accounting firms and paralegals to do some of the same tasks that lawyers do.” The report estimated that overall legal sector employment will increase 11 percent by 2020, and that paralegal and legal assistant jobs will surge 18 percent.

The report, which the ABA Journal reported on Thursday, cautions that the number of law school graduates continues to outpace the anticipated growth in jobs. The most recently available data from the American Bar Association pegs the number of law school grads for 2010 at 44,000.

The March 29 report prompted William Henderson, an Indiana University School of Law professor who studies the business of law, to author a blog post containing three suggestions for how to curb the overproduction of lawyers.

Henderson’s ideas include having the Education Department curtail federal funding for law student loans, reducing prospective students’ interest in applying to law school through new regulations requiring law schools to release more reliable post-graduation employment statistics, and improving the versatility of law degrees to make graduates more competitive for jobs outside the industry.

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