I often hear it said that “law is the new arts” – a generalist degree more than a pathway to the legal profession. The release of new census data today lets us examine this issue. Certainly Australia’s universities seem to be churning out lots of law graduates. According to the census, in August 2011 73,700 Australians had bachelor-level legal qualifications as their highest qualification. That’s up by nearly a quarter on August 2006 (59,500).
We might expect that this would overwhelm the legal profession. But it is managing to absorb a large number of law graduates. The figure below shows that for male graduates the share working as legal professionals (mainly solicitors, barristers and judges) is down a bit on 2006, but still more than half by their late twenties.
Young women are similar to their male contemporaries, suggesting that the labour force is absorbing most graduates, though at a slightly lower rate than in 2006. But by the second half of their thirties, the proportion working as lawyers drops below half. I have not yet examined what else they are doing in any detail. But a quick look at overall rates of graduate workforce participation shows the same pattern as the 2006 census: even for childless female graduates full-time workforce participation declines in their thirties.
Certainly 2006 compared to 2011 shows that a lower proportion of law graduates are working as lawyers in 2011. And there is no doubt that law graduates are found in many different jobs (I have a LLB gathering dust in my spare room). But as there is still a clearly dominant occupational outcome for law graduates, it is not yet the “new arts”.