The article Lonerider linked to is one of the most comprehensive ones I've seen, a bit depressing in many ways, but not surprising.
Many economists and others have been protesting and making cases/arguments about the overproduction of lawyers in the USA as it relates to supply and demand for well over 15 years.
Perhaps the current internet era of rapid information availability and flow is dispelling the long believed myth that going to law school and becoming a lawyer is an easy path to prestige, wealth, nice cars and a nice comfortable life as long as you get in somewhere good and graduate. The now readily available news about legal profession reality might be deterring people from seeking law school that were interested due to believing the fame, fortune and glory myth. That myth has never been true IRL BTW, only true in movies and TV shows.
Only in America do a lot of people attribute a lot of unwarranted prestige and assumptions about wealth to lawyers in general, especially ones from big name schools and law firms or to lawyers in general. In most areas of Europe and other parts of the world, being a lawyer/barrister is not viewed as a road to riches profession with much higher prestige than most other common education/degree required white collar professions to justify the super egos and pretentious attitudes/views that exist in US culture.
When I was in Holland during winter break while in law school I met a girl that is a lawyer in the EU. At dinner I asked what she does and she meekly said "Oh, I'm just a lawyer, I do paperwork and am a go-between with people and the government and the bureaucracy, nothing fancy, but its a living". I was shocked by her humility. It took the wind out of my sails since I was about to brag and try to impress her by telling her I was a law student at a top tier LS in the USA.
Check out all the graphs in the article, here is the link again:http://amlawdaily.typepad.com/amlawdail ... ising.html
Aside from the over supply of new J.D. grads each year issue, there are many big economic changes that are negatively affecting the demand for new lawyers, pay by the hour legal services from a firm or sole practitioner and how much income a practicing lawyer can reasonably expect to earn.
One of them is the growth of DIY online legal services providers such as LegalZoom that provide a host of inexpensive automated services for many common legal matters that people used to have to hire a paid by the hour lawyer to talk to about the situation and pay large fees to take care of the paperwork, filings, procedures, etc.
With LegalZoom and other similar services the process is almost completely automated by online questionnaires with drop down menus and such for many different types of common legal matters. They'll even file the papers for you for an extra fee that is way less than a one hour consultation with an attorney in person to even get started with basic info about how to handle whatever type of matter it is.
Such services have hit the bottom line of firms hard in recent years, especially big and small firms that depend a lot on pedestrian transactional, mainly paperwork and filings, areas of law rather than hard core litigation of cases with an ongoing semi or super complex/serious dispute involving parties with deep pockets.
This electronic evolution plus the economy is making it much harder for a lot of lawyers to be able to drum up billable hours, leaving some like this: