Trends in Graduate Employment — 1985-2005

NALP Bulletin, July 2006

Table 1 below shows employment trends for new law graduates from 1985 to 2005. Because of changes in how jobs are classified, effective with the Class of 2001, exact comparisons are not available for all trends. However, 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. The employment rate for the Class of 2005 was the highest since 2001, at 89.6%. More than half of employed graduates obtain their first job at a law firm — a fact that has not changed in the 32 years that NALP has compiled employment information.

A further analysis of law firm employment (Table 2) reveals that, in 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 in this category climbed back to about 41% in 1993. Another decline started in 1996 and continued through 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. For the last eight years, the number of jobs taken in firms of more than 100 lawyers has outnumbered those taken in firms of 2-10 despite a narrowing of the differential in recent years. Also of note is the growing proportion of jobs in either very small or large firms, which now account for almost three-quarters of law firm jobs taken by new graduates.

Employment Trends — 1985–2005

 


OF THOSE FOR WHOM EMPLOYMENT STATUS WAS KNOWN
Year % Employed % Employed
Legal
Full-Time
% Employed
Legal
Part-Time
% Employed
Other
Full-Time
% Employed
Other
Part-Time
% Not
Working
% Pursuing
Advanced
Degree
% of Jobs
in Law Firms
1985 91.5% 81.6% 2.6% 6.7% 0.8% 7.0% 1.5% 60.6%
1986 91.3 81.8 2.5 6.2 0.8 7.2 1.5 62.3
1987 92.2 84.1 2.0 5.6 0.5 6.6 1.2 63.5
1988 92.0 84.5 2.0 4.9 0.5 6.9 1.1 64.3
1989 90.8 82.7 2.2 5.2 0.5 7.9 1.3 62.4
1990 90.3 82.1 2.4 5.2 0.7 8.2 1.4 62.9
1991 85.9 76.1 3.3 5.6 0.9 12.6 1.5 60.8
1992 83.5 72.5 4.0 5.9 1.1 14.5 1.9 59.0
1993 83.4 70.3 4.6 7.0 1.5 14.6 2.0 57.1
1994 84.7 69.6 5.2 8.1 1.8 13.1 2.2 55.0
1995 86.7 70.7 5.4 9.0 1.6 11.2 2.1 56.1
1996 87.4 71.4 4.7 9.7 1.6 10.5 2.1 55.7
1997 89.2 73.6 4.4 9.9 1.5 8.6 2.2 55.6
1998 89.9 74.9 3.7 10.0 1.4 7.9 2.2 55.0
1999 90.3 75.5 2.9 9.8 1.1 7.8 1.9 55.1
2000 91.5 77.3 2.5 9.6 1.0 6.4 2.1 54.8

% Employed in Positions Requiring Bar Passage % Employed in Positions Where JD Is Preferred % Employed in Other Professional Positions % Employed in Non-Professional Positions
2001 90.0 75.9 6.0 5.5 1.5 7.6 2.4 57.8
2002 89.0 75.3 5.2 5.8 1.6 8.5 2.5 58.1
2003 88.9 73.7 6.5 5.7 1.6 8.4 2.7 57.8
2004 88.9 73.2 7.5 5.3 1.4 8.6 2.5 56.2
2005 89.6 74.4 7.5 5.1 1.4 8.2 2.2 55.8

 

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 all other years include such graduates, and thus may not necessarily be obtained by adding up figures for individual job types. 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 as well as those studying for the bar full-time and neither working in any capacity nor actively seeking a job. New job classifications effective with the Class of 2001 preclude direct comparisons of job types with prior years.

 

Law Firm Jobs by Firm Size — Classes of 1982-2005
(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
2004 3.6 34.9 11.5 7.2 6.4 36.4
2005 3.2 36.0 10.7 6.8 6.0 37.3

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 & JD's) because law firm jobs for which firm size was not reported are excluded from the base.

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