U.S. Bureau of Labor: Legal Employment Tumbled From Q4 to Q1

The U.S. BOL reported a significant decline in employment for the legal industry in Q1 2024, dropping to the lowest levels since 2017, with overall unemployment rates increasing.

U.S. Bureau of Labor: Legal Employment Tumbled From Q4 to Q1

(Image courtesy of U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

The legal employment landscape has been experiencing significant shifts in recent times. The U.S. legal workforce contracted for a second consecutive quarter in Q1, starting off the year with falling employment totals and climbing unemployment rates. This trend reflects a cooling field in an otherwise hot job market.

A Closer Look at the Numbers

Overall legal industry employment fell from 1.88M in Q4 2023 to 1.76M in Q1 2024, the lowest level since Q1 2017 (1.73M). This represents a significant contraction in the legal workforce. Average employment levels fell by 12% for men (from 913,000 to 805,000) and 1% for women (from 966,000 to 955,000).

Employment levels fell from the Q4 to Q1 for lawyers (from 1.21M to 1.11M), legal support workers (from 61,000 to 55,000), and title examiners (from 95,000 to 77,000). However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Paralegal employment climbed from 409,000 to 438,000 in Q1 after two negative quarters.

Factors Behind the Decline

The reversal of pandemic-era over-hiring, lower demand in corporate legal practices, and continued high interest rates (which can particularly impact title examiners) are among the economic issues that likely led to the negative employment figures in Q1.

The pandemic has had a profound impact on the legal profession, with many law firms forced to send their attorneys home to quarantine. Lawyers had to contend with setting up their offices at home while continuing their work in a remote setting. This sudden shift to remote work has led to increased workloads and stress, contributing to the decline in legal employment.

High interest rates can also have a dampening effect on employment by increasing borrowing costs for businesses and individuals. The rising interest rates have been discouraging investments and curtailing economic activity. This has led to a decrease in economic activity and a slowdown in job growth and job losses.

As employment totals across most of the field dipped in the first quarter, quarterly unemployment levels climbed overall. Unemployment rates for lawyers and paralegals rose from 0.9% to 1% and 2.5% to 3.4%, respectively, while the rate more than doubled for men (from 0.4% to 1.1%) and nearly doubled for women (from 1.8% to 3%). All rates for legal workers were still lower than the national unemployment rate of 3.8% in the first quarter.

Implications for the Legal Field

The increase in unemployment rates and decrease in employment levels for most of the legal field means that many who are losing their legal jobs are looking for new ones rather than leaving the legal industry altogether. The continued negative news for legal industry unemployment means that legal professionals will likely experience a tougher job market, while employers may be able to benefit from a relatively larger surplus of workers.

The future of legal unemployment is also being shaped by various factors such as local legal regulations, economic policies, and the business environment. Technological advancements are also playing a significant role, with the rise of legal tech blurring the line between legal tech providers and just tech. 

Legal.io's Role in the Evolving Legal Job Market

In response to these industry changes, Legal.io offers a suite of services designed to support both legal professionals seeking employment and organizations looking to hire. Our platform connects over 40,000 legal professionals with opportunities, offering resources such as:

  • A comprehensive job board for legal professionals seeking new opportunities. Explore the latest listings on our job board.
  • Salary insights to help legal professionals understand their market value. Check out our salaries database.
  • Up-to-date industry news and resources, available on our community page.

For organizations looking to navigate this shifting landscape, Legal.io offers tailored solutions to efficiently hire the right talent. Whether you require temporary or permanent legal professionals, our platform can help streamline the hiring process. Submit a request for talent through our contact page.

As the legal employment landscape evolves, Legal.io remains committed to providing the tools and resources necessary for legal professionals and employers to adapt and thrive in this dynamic environment.

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