In a scant few weeks, the latest crop of potential Oregon lawyers will sit for the July bar exam.
In a profession that is oft maligned, we frequently hear “There are too many lawyers!”
But before you conclude that aphorism is still true (or ever was), channel your inner Bill Nye the Science Guy and consider the following:
- On the national scene, law school admissions have been in a downward spiral for five straight years.
- Oregon mirrors those statistics. Data from the ABA’s “Standard 509 Information Reports” reveals that applications and admissions to Oregon law schools dropped by 50% or more in the last three years. [See the infographics at the end of this post.]
- Oregon bar exam results and admissions are little more haphazard, but support the same generally downward trend. [2014 saw a slight blip upward in applications, but overall passage rates have been dropping – sufficiently so that we became the butt of negative media attention.] Note: Other than pass rate percentages, the bar has not yet posted data for 2015 on its website.]
- In 2012 the Oregon State Bar asked lawyers about their future plans over the next five years. Thirty-five percent of lawyers statewide said they planned to retire, leave the profession, or reduce their practice by 2017. [The highest planned retirement/departure rates were on the Oregon coast. See the infographic at the end of this post.]
- Rural areas have long been under-represented. At first glance, Oregon towns with small populations may seem to be in good shape lawyer-wise, but dig into the details and soon you’ll see the bulk of lawyers are public defenders or district attorneys. If clients have a civil matter, they have to travel to find a lawyer. This is a national problem, and affects other professions. See: Lorelei Laird, In rural America, there are job opportunities and a need for lawyers; Kristi Eaton, Rural areas struggle with lack of lawyers; Legal Services Corporation, Access to Justice in Rural Areas; Eric Cooperstein, Go Rural, Young Lawyer!; and my repost Advantages of Being a Rural Attorney.
Have We Reached the Tipping Point?
- In rural areas, we’re already there and have been for some time.
- Want to set up a solo practice? Prospects for 2016-2017 look far better than years past.
- Looking for a job? The market is still pretty tight, but far better than what it was during the recession. [278 listings on the OSB Career Center Job Listing board when I checked a few weeks ago, but also see Dave Smith, The State of the Oregon Legal Market, Class of 2012 edition.]
The Future Looks Good
All of this is a long way of saying I feel good about the future, especially if you plan to open a solo practice. My best advice: give sincere consideration to Southern Oregon, Eastern Oregon, the coast, and smaller towns in the valley.
[All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis]