Longstanding Employment Patterns for Law School Graduates Interrupted

NALP Bulletin, July 2011

The overall employment rate for the Class of 2010 was 87.6% of graduates for whom employment status was known, the lowest rate since 1996, continuing a reversal that started in 2008. (See the table below entitled "Employment Trends, 1985 - 2010.")

The employment rate for new law school graduates has fallen more than four percentage points since reaching a 20-year high of 91.9% in 2007. Moreover, the Class of 2010 employment figures reveal a job market with many underlying structural weaknesses, and the employment profile for this class marks the interruption of employment patterns for new law graduates that have been in place for decades. For more insight into the employment picture for the Class of 2010, see Employment for the Class of 2010 - Selected Findings.

A bare majority of employed graduates obtained their first job at a law firm. At 50.9%, this percentage dropped a full 5 percentage points from 2009, an unprecedented decline. The percentage of jobs in law firms is thus a considerable contrast to the previous 17 years, when the percentages ranged only from 55-58%. As shown in the table entitled "Law Firm Jobs by Firm Size," the distribution of these jobs by firm size has changed over the years. For many years, jobs in firms of 2-10 lawyers outnumbered those in firms of more than 100 lawyers. In 1998, the pattern reversed, and up until the Class of 2010 the number of jobs taken in firms of more than 100 lawyers outnumbered those taken in firms of 2-10 lawyers.

The distribution for the Class of 2010 marks a sharp reversal, with jobs in small firms outnumbering those in firms of more than 100 lawyers for the first time since 1997. It remains the case, however, that the proportion of jobs in either very small or large firms has been growing, accounting for at least 70% of law firm jobs since 2000. Finally, the percentage of law firm jobs reported as solo practice increased again in 2010, as it did in 2009, to levels not seen since the period from 1992-1997, another recessionary and post-recessionary period.

Employment Trends — 1985–2010


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
% Continuing Studies % 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
2006 90.7 75.3 7.9 5.1 1.3 7.0 2.2 55.8
2007 91.9 76.9 7.7 5.1 1.3 5.8 2.3 55.5
2008 89.9 74.7 8.1 4.9 1.3 7.7 2.4 56.2
2009 88.3 70.8 9.2 5.4 1.8 8.7 3.1 55.9
2010 87.6 68.4 10.7 5.6 1.9 9.4 2.9 50.9

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 seeking employment as well as those 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 1982-2010
(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
2006 2.9 34.3 10.4 6.9 5.9 39.5
2007 3.0 33.2 9.6 6.1 5.8 42.3
2008 3.5 33.0 8.8 6.3 5.2 43.2
2009 5.5 35.1 7.9 4.9 4.8 41.7
2010 5.9 41.1 9.3 5.6 4.4 33.7

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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