In its recent piece on dropping law school enrollment, the New York Times suggests that we are not merely witnessing a market correction. Rather, prospective students are astutely observing a structural shift in the legal market.
The Times quotes Paul Campos for the proposition that "People are coming to terms with the fact that this decline is the product of long-term structural changes that are not just going away." Of course, Professor Campos does not offer any examples of structural change other than LegalZoom and outsourcing to India, which some already believe is giving way to inshoring.
Bill Henderson claims later in the article that law schools "continue to train people in the artisan craft of lawyering that is in decline." This is, of course, a reiteration of Richard Susskind's familiar point that law is increasingly becoming commoditized, and law schools should prepare for this future. However, contrary to Prof. Henderson's claim, law schools have been innovating and some are preparing for a Susskind world, even though this appears to have not provided these schools with a comparative advantage.
If we are in the midst of a structural shift, one would expect to see some evidence of it other than declining law school enrollment. However, as noted previously in this space, empirical research has found that lawyers' earning premium actually increased in the aftermath of the recession. Moreover, the total number of jobs claimed by law school graduates has risen in the last two years. And most recently, Citi projected 5% growth in BigLaw profits in 2015.
None of this is to minimize the changing nature of the legal market, but the problem with the Times' article is that it engenders fear about alternative legal service providers and outsourcing even though, in my estimation, they pose very little threat to lawyers and may actually complement their work. Similarly, while there are some very good reasons to avoid going to law school (lack of interest in the law is the best reason), no one should be deterred by the fear that he or she will have to relocate to India to find work or that society will replace prosecutors with mini-Watsons.