A report from the American Bar Association suggests that the demand for lawyers, at least in the United States, might have begun to subside. 38,020 students started their first year of law school during the fall 2022 term, compared to 42,718 in 2021, according to the report. Meanwhile, there has been a significant increase in enrollments in non-J.D. programs.

Although this data is limited to the U.S., Walker Clark LLC has begun to notice what might be -- and we stress "might be" -- the start of a similar trend in some other jurisdictions as well. 

Is this a one-time anomaly in the data, perhaps sparked by the COVID -19 pandemic; or could it be the start of a trend that might accelerate as we move into the second half of the 2020s? At this point it is difficult to validate clear correlations between the introduction of advanced legal services technology, a decreasing demand for lawyers, and a drop in J.D. enrollments in the United States; but we suspect that is it more probable than not that they will emerge over the next five years.

Our firm has predicted for several years now[1] that as technology begins continues to enhance the productivity of individual lawyers, especially associates in law firms, and some functions formerly performed in some law firms by lawyers are outsourced, law firms might need to "right-size" themselves, which will frequently mean fewer associates. In fact this trend appears to be emerging already, as suggested by an examination of the time records and financial reports of law firms throughout the world. The good news for associates is that each one can be much more valuable to a law firm (and should command commensurately higher compensation); the bad news is that most law firms will find that they need fewer of them to be profitable and productive.

We also have introduced concepts, tools, and methods to help law firms of all sizes, especially small and midsize firms, to anticipate, plan for, and execute responses to the challenges and opportunities of "the incredible shrinking law firm."

Your law firm should include this topic in your strategic and business planning discussions. For more information about how Walker Clark LLC can facilitate a well-informed discussion and planning about current and future needs for legal talent, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Norman Clark


 [1] See "Artificial Intelligence: a Force Multiplier and Competitive Equalizer for Small and Midsize Law Firms." Walker Clark World View 31 October 2017, https://www.walkerclark.com/worldview-blog/previous-worldview-posts/298-artificial-intelligence-a-force-multiplier-for-small-and-midsize-law-firms.html.