Employment Market for Law School Graduates Wavers
NALP Bulletin, July 2010
Despite the vicissitudes of the economy, the employment market for new law school graduates has been remarkably steady over time. However, after a 12-year period in which the overall employment rate was close to or above 89% (with a high of 91.9% reached in 2007), it is evident that a reversal which started in 2008 is continuing. (See the table below showing employment trends for new law graduates from 1985 to 2009.) The employment rate for new law school graduates has fallen nearly four percentage points in two years, marking the impact of the recession on the employment market. Nonetheless, the 88.3% employment rate for the Class of 2009 is higher than many expected, and considerably higher than the rates that prevailed during much of the 1990s. The overall employment rate taken alone however, obscures a number of weaknesses in the job market. For more insight into the employment picture for the Class of 2009, see Employment for the Class of 2009 — Selected Findings (PDF).
More than half of employed graduates obtain their first job at a law firm — a fact that has not changed in the 36 years that NALP has compiled employment information. However, as shown in the table on the opposite page, the distribution of these jobs by firm size has changed. 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 since then the number of jobs taken in firms of more than 100 lawyers has outnumbered those taken in firms of 2-10 lawyers. 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 noticeably in 2009, to a level not seen since the period from 1992-1997, another recessionary and post-recessionary period.
Employment Trends — 1985–2009
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 1982-2009
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.