Trends in Graduate Employment — 1982-2003

NALP Bulletin, June 2004 

The tables below show employment trends for new law graduates during the period from 1982 to 2003. Because of changes to the job classification question effective with the Class of 2001, exact comparisons with prior years are not available for all trends. Nonetheless, it is evident that, despite some decline in the overall employment rate since 2000, the market for new law graduates has been quite strong in recent years, with overall employment close to or above 89% since 1997. More than half of employed graduates obtain their first job at a law firm — a fact that has not changed in the 30 years that NALP has compiled employment statistics.

A further analysis of law firm employment shows that, for many of these years, small firms of 2-10 lawyers have supplied relatively more jobs than any other size firm. After declining through much of the 1980s and reaching a low of about 25% in 1989, the percentage of jobs climbed back to about 41% in 1993. Another decline started in 1996 and continued though 2001. These changes were mirrored by opposing changes for firms of more than 100 lawyers. The percentage of law firm jobs accounted for by these firms doubled during the 1980s, dropped noticeably between 1990 and 1993, and started to rise again in 1994. During the last six years, the number of jobs taken in these firms outnumbered those taken in firms of 2-10, despite a narrowing of the differential in the last two years.

Law Firm Jobs by Firm Size — Classes of 1982-2003
(percent of law firm jobs taken in each size firm)

 

Year SIZE OF FIRM (NUMBER OF LAWYERS)
Solo 2-10 11-25 26-50 51-100 101 or more
1982 7.6% 40.3% 14.8% 11.1% 10.7% 15.6%
1983 7.1 41.1 15.1 11.2 10.1 15.4
1984 6.6 39.7 15.0 11.1 10.4 17.2
1985 5.0 35.7 15.1 11.7 12.0 20.6
1986 4.3 32.4 15.6 12.0 12.5 23.2
1987 3.3 31.6 15.3 12.9 12.8 24.1
1988 2.7 28.6 14.5 12.2 13.4 28.6
1989 2.8 24.6 15.0 12.6 14.8 30.2
1990 3.6 28.7 13.1 11.6 12.2 30.8
1991 5.2 33.1 12.5 10.3 10.0 28.9
1992 6.8 38.0 13.5 9.1 9.1 23.6
1993 7.5 41.5 13.1 7.8 7.9 22.2
1994 6.2 41.0 12.2 7.6 8.1 24.9
1995 6.0 40.9 12.3 7.5 7.5 25.8
1996 6.1 39.3 11.8 7.4 7.5 27.9
1997 5.7 36.4 12.0 7.7 7.6 30.6
1998 3.8 33.5 11.5 7.7 8.0 35.5
1999 3.2 31.4 11.1 7.4 7.7 39.1
2000 2.7 30.2 10.8 7.7 7.6 41.0
2001 2.8 29.9 10.3 6.9 7.4 42.6
2002 2.4 31.4 10.7 7.0 7.3 41.2
2003 3.3 34.5 11.6 7.2 6.8 36.6

Note: Figures for 1989 and 1990 reflect only full-time law firm jobs; for all other years figures reflect all law firm jobs acquired by graduates. Figures in this table differ slightly from those published in national reports (Employment Report & Salary Survey/Jobs & J.D.'s) because law firm jobs for which firm size was not reported are excluded from the base.

 

Employment Trends, 1985-2003

 

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


% Bar Passage Required

% JD Preferred

% Other Professional

% Non-Professional


2001

90.0

75.9

6.0

5.5

1.5

7.6

2.4

57.8

29.9

2002

89.0

75.3

5.2

5.8

1.6

8.5

2.5

58.1

28.9

2003

88.9

73.7

6.5

5.7

1.6

8.4

2.7

57.8

34.5

Note: Overall employment rates for 1990-1998 are based on all graduates for whom employment status was known, excluding a small number of graduates 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 for individual job types do not add to the overall employment rate for 1985-89. Graduates known to be employed, but for whom specific job type was not reported, are reflected in all the percentages for 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 jobs for which firm size was not reported. New job classifications effective with the Class of 2001 preclude direct comparison of job types with prior years.

Source: NALP Employment Report and Salary Survey data.

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