What is the Legal Job Market Like in 2021?

According to the American Bar Association, there were 1,352,027 licensed attorneys in the United States in 2020.  On the surface, it appears as if there isn’t enough business to support all of those lawyers. Pay cuts hit across the board in the legal industry with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, and some attorneys are leaving law firms in favor of other career paths directly or indirectly involving the law.

While some law firms continue to flourish, others are imploding. Attorneys are a resilient bunch though. Creative lawyers with new ideas can still follow a legal career path that can provide them with opportunities for significant personal growth, career advancement

There is Strong Competition for Jobs

Indeed, there are job opportunities out there for young lawyers. Law school classes have decreased by about 25% over the last 10 years. As per the National Association for Law Placements, the good news is that more than 90% of the 2019 law school graduating class was employed in 2020. That was the highest percentage since the Great Recession. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2029, the employment prospects for lawyers will grow by about 4%. That estimate was published before COVID-19. Given current circumstances, expect gradual growth of about half of that. Competition for jobs is expected to be strong in a difficult market.

Lawyers Working from Home

As technology advanced, the handwriting began appearing on the wall. Changes would be coming in the ways that lawyers practiced and ran their law firms. When COVID-19 hit, the legal profession was initially stunned, but it quickly adapted and fought back. Existing work needed to be completed, and lawyers were doing that work just as effectively at home as they were in their law firm’s office space. They increased their technological proficiency too, and those resources are now indispensable components of their practices. As this new way of operating a law firm evolved, new opportunities opened up too.

Redistribution of Assets and Refocus of Practice Areas

There is no question that COVID-19 has affected the job market for lawyers who just passed the bar exam. Although we might look back on the Great Recession, that piece of history was different. In 2008, the economy came to a halt because of market forces. In 2021, it was local and state legislation that stopped an undisputedly growing economy. Law firms are redistributing their assets and refocusing. Although some practice areas are receding, others are growing, and those are where the opportunities are now for new lawyers.

Post-Pandemic Legal Employment Opportunities

Early on in law school, you studied contracts and the Uniform Commercial Code. In 2021 and the next few years after, one of the biggest liabilities for businesses will be the inability to fulfill contracts. Supply chain disruptions are of particular concern. As a result, there is an increased need for lawyers in commercial litigation. Other types of civil litigation like intellectual property disputes, employment and labor issues, family law, medical malpractice, other personal injury cases and alternative dispute resolution have not been significantly affected. On the criminal practice side, there will always be jobs for prosecutors and public defenders. While DUI cases are down, crime is up. Government regulatory agencies seem to be immune to COVID-19 too. There are local, state and federal jobs out there for new lawyers.

Some new lawyers aren’t going to get the jobs that they want, but that’s going to happen in any job market. Others might believe that working for a government regulatory agency is a step down. Then, they learn the ins and outs of the industry that is being regulated and how much money they can make on the outside. That motivates just about all lawyers. There’s still plenty of room for building a successful, intrinsically rewarding and high-paying career as a lawyer. It’s far better to have opportunity, start somewhere and work your way up than to have nowhere to go.

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