Employment and Salary Trends for New Law Graduates, 1985-2000

NALP Bulletin, June 2001

The overall employment rate for the Class of 2000 was 91.5% of graduates for whom employment status was known as of February 15, 2001. Over three-quarters of graduates for whom employment status was known had obtained legal full-time jobs. As the first table below shows, 2000 was the seventh consecutive year of increased rates of legal full-time employment.

The table further shows that the percentage of other jobs — those not directly involved in the practice of law — topped out in 1997 and 1998, but nonetheless remains at levels well above those of the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

For those graduates going into private practice, small firms of 2-10 attorneys remain the largest source of jobs, although their share has been shrinking steadily since 1994. By way of comparison, large firms of 251 or more attorneys accounted for 28% of the law firm jobs acquired by the Class of 2000.

A look at 15 years of law firm salaries shows that, while the median salary in firms of 100 attorneys or less roughly doubled over the period, the median in the largest firms tripled. During the ‘90s, salaries in small firms increased by about one-third, contrasting with an 80% increase in the largest firms. Increases in medians for public sector and public interest jobs over the period compare with those of the smaller firms but remain at or below the $40,000 median in the smallest firms.

Employment Trends: 1985-2000

Year

OF THOSE FOR WHOM EMPLOYMENT STATUS WAS KNOWN

% of Jobs in Law Firms

% of Law Firm Jobs in Firms of 2-10

% Employed

% Employed Legal Full-time

% Employed Legal Part-time

% Employed Other Full-time

% Employed Other Part-time

% Not Working

% Pursuing Advanced Degree

1985

91.5%

81.6%

2.6%

6.7%

0.8%

7.0%

1.5%

60.6%

35.7%

1986

91.3

81.8

2.5

6.2

0.8

7.2

1.5

62.3

32.4

1987

92.2

84.1

2.0

5.6

0.5

6.6

1.2

63.5

31.6

1988

92.0

84.5

2.0

4.9

0.5

6.9

1.1

64.3

28.6

1989

90.8

82.7

2.2

5.2

0.5

7.9

1.3

62.4

24.6

1990

90.3

82.1

2.4

5.2

0.7

8.2

1.4

62.9

28.7

1991

85.9

76.1

3.3

5.6

0.9

12.6

1.5

60.8

33.1

1992

83.5

72.5

4.0

5.9

1.1

14.5

1.9

59.0

38.0

1993

83.4

70.3

4.6

7.0

1.5

14.6

2.0

57.1

41.5

1994

84.7

69.6

5.2

8.1

1.8

13.1

2.2

55.0

41.0

1995

86.7

70.7

5.4

9.0

1.6

11.2

2.1

56.1

40.9

1996

87.4

71.4

4.7

9.7

1.6

10.5

2.1

55.7

39.3

1997

89.2

73.6

4.4

9.9

1.5

8.6

2.2

55.6

36.4

1998

89.9

74.9

3.7

10.0

1.4

7.9

2.2

55.0

33.5

1999

90.3

75.5

2.9

9.8

1.1

7.8

1.9

55.1

31.4

2000

91.5

77.3

2.5

9.6

1.0

6.4

2.1

54.8

30.2

Note: Overall employment rates for 1990-1998 are based on all graduates for whom employment status was known, excluding a small number known to be employed but for whom basic job type was not known. Overall rates for prior years and for 1999 and 2000 include such graduates. Percentages for specific job types for all years except 1999 and 2000 exclude graduates known to be employed but for whom basic job type was not known. Thus these percentages do not add to the overall employment rate for 1985-1989. Percentages for later years may not add to the overall rate because of rounding. Graduates known to be employed, but for whom specific job type was not reported, are reflected in all the percentagesfor 1999 and later because of the relatively high number of such graduates -- about 1% of those for whom employment status was known. Also, in 1985 and 1986, multiple jobs held by one person were reported separately; hence legal and other employment percentages for these years reflect positions taken rather than individuals and cannot be added to obtain the overall employment rate. The percentage not working includes graduates both seeking and not seeking employment. In order to provide consistent trend data, figures for the percent of law firm jobs in firms of 2-10 are calculated using a base that excludes law firm jbos for which firm size was not reported.

Median Starting Salaries in Law Firms: 1985-2000

Year

FIRM SIZE (# OF ATTORNEYS)

All Sizes

2-10

11-25

26-50

51-100

101-250

251-500

501+

101+

1985

$31,700

$21,900

$28,600

$33,700

$37,900

NA

NA

NA

$40,500

1990

50,000

30,000

40,000

45,000

53,000

60,000

70,000

70,000

NA

1995

50,000

32,500

40,000

48,000

55,000

62,000

72,000

72,000

70,000

2000

80,000

40,000

50,000

60,000

76,000

99,500

125,000*

125,000*

120,000

Source: NALP Employment Report and Salary Survey data.
Note: Figures are based on full-time jobs only. The median is the middle value in a ranking.
*About half the salaries reported for these categories were $125,0000. Thus, although the median is $125,000, half the salaries are not above this figure, rather half are at this figure.
"NA" — Figures were not compiled for these categories.

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