Employment Patterns 1999-2010

NALP Bulletin, August 2011

Over time, women and minorities have been less likely to take jobs in law firms, and more likely to take jobs with government and public interest employers. For those graduates who do take jobs in law firms, women and minorities are more likely to take jobs in the largest firms of more than 250 lawyers compared with men and non-minorities. The tables accompanying this article show the kinds of full-time jobs taken by the Classes of 1999, 2004, 2009, and 2010.

  • The percentage of employed graduates taking full-time jobs in private practice dropped by about 5 percentage points for both men and women in 2010 compared with 2009. Women remain less likely to enter private practice and more likely to accept positions in government or public interest organizations or as judicial clerks - 32.6% for women compared with 27.3% for men. This pattern is similar to those of prior years, with some fluctuation in the differential. Women, however, remain about twice as likely as men to take public interest jobs.

  • It is also the case that, compared with men going into private practice, women are somewhat more likely to take jobs in firms of more than 250 lawyers, and, until 2009, somewhat less likely to take jobs in small firms of 2-25 lawyers. The percentage of women going into private practice and taking jobs in firms of more than 250 lawyers has been 1-2 percentage points higher than the rate for men. The share of jobs in these firms dropped by 6-7 percentage points for both men and women in 2010 compared with 2009.

  • Minorities likewise enter private practice less frequently than do non-minorities, with figures of 50.8% and 54.6%, respectively in 2010. However, the differential had shrunk to about 2 percentage points in 2009 (compared with the 6-7 percentage point differential in 1999 and 2004), but crept up to almost 4 percentage points in 2010.

  • Minorities entering private practice are more likely to obtain jobs in firms of more than 250 lawyers than are non-minorities, and this remained true with the Class of 2010, even as the share of private practice in these firms dropped for both groups. For the Class of 2010, the shares of jobs in firms of that size were 34% and 26.2%, respectively, about an 8 percentage point differential. This contrasts with the nearly 11 percentage point differential in 2009 and is more comparable to 1999. The share of jobs taken in small firms correspondingly increased for both groups, but more so for minorities.

  • Compared to non-minorities, minorities historically have been more likely to take public service positions - jobs in government, public interest organizations and as judicial clerks. However, because of an overall decline in the prevalence of such jobs among minorities and an increase in public service employment among non-minorities, in 2006, for the first time, the percentage of minorities and non-minorities taking public service jobs was nearly equal. The percentages remained close, at about 27% for both groups, in 2009, and diverged just a bit in 2010, to 30.7% and 29.9%, respectively. Compared with 1999, the differential between minority and non-minority graduates with respect to government employment has narrowed, largely attributable to a decline in the government share of jobs among minorities. In contrast, the differential between minorities and non-minorities with respect to judicial clerkships has widened somewhat in recent years. Similar to women compared with men, minorities remain more likely than non-minorities to take public interest positions.

For a longer-term perspective on this topic, dating back to 1982, see the June 2006 research column.

Employer Type — Comparison for the Classes of 1999, 2004, 2009, and 2010

Men and Women

  1999 2004 2009 2010
Men Women Men Women Men Women Men Women
Private Practice 57.5% 54.4% 58.6% 56.0% 61.0% 57.4% 55.4% 51.9%
By size of firm*
Solo 3.1 2.2 3.3 2.2 6.3 3.6 6.9 4.1
2-25 39.1 35.9 42.9 41.3 38.8 38.4 45.7 45.4
26-100 13.9 14.6 13.0 12.7 10.1 9.3 10.1 10.0
101-250 12.5 13.3 9.1 9.1 7.2 7.8 5.7 6.4
251-500 13.1 14.3 8.3 9.3 7.3 8.5 6.6 6.4
501+ 9.9 10.9 15.6 17.5 26.7 28.8 21.3 23.8
Business/Industry 14.3 11.0 12.5 10.0 12.8 10.5 14.6 12.3
Government 12.9 14.1 12.1 11.9 11.7 11.7 13.2 13.5
Judicial Clerkships 10.5 13.3 10.7 12.8 8.8 11.0 9.9 11.3
Public Interest 1.7 3.9 3.4 6.1 3.6 6.8 4.2 7.8
Academic 0.8 1.2 1.4 1.7 1.5 2.0 1.8 2.3
Total # of full-time jobs 16,779 13,328 15,426 14,769 17,123 14,166 14,489 16,499


Minorities and Non-minorities

  1999 2004 2009 2010
Non-minorities Minorities Non-minorities Minorities Non-minorities Minorities Non-minorities Minorities
Private Practice 57.2% 51.0% 58.7% 51.7% 59.8% 57.5% 54.6% 50.8%
By size of firm*
Solo 2.6 2.7 2.7 3.2 5.2 5.4 5.5 6.0
2-25 39.6 28.8 43.9 36.3 41.7 32.1 48.1 40.4
26-100 14.4 13.4 13.4 11.1 10.3 8.5 4.7 4.1
101-250 12.7 13.4 9.3 9.0 7.6 6.7 6.2 5.9
251-500 13.0 17.3 8.7 9.4 7.5 9.2 6.4 7.0
501+ 9.9 13.3 15.3 20.8 24.8 33.8 19.8 27.0
Business/Industry 12.8 13.6 10.8 12.8 11.6 12.4 13.1 14.6
Government 12.7 16.8 11.6 13.9 11.4 13.0 13.2 14.9
Judicial Clerkships 12.2 10.2 12.1 10.5 10.5 7.3 11.4 8.1
Public Interest 2.3 4.4 4.3 6.8 4.8 6.8 5.3 7.7
Academic 0.9 1.5 1.4 2.5 1.6 2.2 1.8 2.8
Total # of full-time jobs 23,623 5,027 2,3014 5,590 22,263 6,098 21,661 6,084

Note: Percentages are based on graduates employed full-time, including those for whom employer type was not reported; hence percentages do not add to 100. In 1999, public defenders were counted in the government category; starting in 2004, they have been counted in the public interest category. Minorities are defined as Black/African-Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, American Indian/Native Americans, Hispanics of any race, and multi-racial graduates.

*Percentages by size of firm are based on law firm jobs only and do not add to 100 because the unknown size category is not shown.

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