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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


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

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
(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

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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