Labor Productivity in Legal Services: A Comprehensive Analysis

Samarie Gasper

October 31

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, labor productivity in legal services experienced a noteworthy growth of 3.3% in 2019, 1.3% in 2020, and 3.6% in 2021. Although the growth rate slowed during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the legal sector demonstrated remarkable resilience, maintaining productivity levels while other industries faced significant declines.

To gain a more robust understanding of labor productivity in the legal sector, we must examine multiple productivity measures. As directed by an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we will consider two additional relevant measures. One measure highlights the legal industry's ability to remain "labor productive" despite the turbulent business environment, while the other sheds light on the emerging human capital challenge faced by firms industry-wide.

The contribution of capital intensity to labor productivity played a vital role in weathering the economic storm caused by the pandemic. This metric gauges the impact of investments in physical capital, such as machinery, equipment, technology, and infrastructure, on workforce productivity. Notably, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the contribution of capital intensity to labor productivity increased by 0.2% in 2019, 0.5% in 2020, and stabilized in 2021. These findings support the notion that investments in technological advancements, such as cloud-based systems, matter management tools, and high-quality hardware, enabled legal sector workers to be more productive. Notably, technological advances proved to be the saving grace of the legal sector during the pandemic, facilitating seamless transitions between remote and hybrid work models and sustaining high-performance levels.


On the other hand, we must also consider the contribution of labor composition to labor productivity. This factor examines the impact of workforce characteristics and distribution on overall productivity, including factors such as skills, education levels, experience, age, gender, and diversity. The data reveals fluctuations in this contribution, with a decline of -0.1% in 2019, growth of 0.6% in 2020, and another decline of -0.4% in 2021. These trends suggest turbulence in the legal sector concerning the quality of workers currently in the industry and the resulting impact on labor output. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, the quality of workers improved, possibly due to layoffs of less experienced personnel, leaving only the most skilled and experienced professionals to navigate the crisis. However, in 2021, a decline of -0.4% likely resulted from experienced workers facing burnout and exiting the industry being replaced by less experienced counterparts.


Based on these insights, we can reasonably predict that labor productivity statistics will likely continue its positive growth trend for 2022 and 2023. Furthermore, with the advent of artificial intelligence, we can anticipate a rise in capital intensity's contribution to labor productivity. As technology advances, individuals in the legal sector may explore alternative income-generating opportunities, leading to further shifts in labor composition's impact on labor productivity. To prepare for these changes, it is imperative that firms implement strategies to retain and cultivate quality talent, by adapting to the evolving workforce landscape.