Law Firm Jobs in 2010 - A Tale of 20 Cities

NALP Bulletin, September 2011

The overall number of entry-level law firm jobs eroded in 2010, but the number of jobs lost — both raw numbers and numbers as a percentage of the law firm jobs in a particular market — varied greatly in different cities and markets, illustrating the disparate impact of the recession on different legal employment markets. Regardless of the differences, the numbers in most markets are startling.

As NALP has already reported, the percentage of law school graduates taking jobs in private practice plunged by 5 percentage points from 2009 to 2010 — from 55.9% of jobs to 50.9% of jobs. Because the total number of jobs reported taken by the two classes was virtually unchanged, it follows that the total number of law firm jobs reported also had to decrease, which it did, from 20,145 in 2009 to 18,329 in 2010, a decrease of about 9%. Moreover, the proportion of jobs reported taken in firms of 251 or more lawyers (hereafter referred to as large firms) also decreased, from one-third of law firm jobs to just over one-quarter of law firm jobs (26.5%.) It likewise follows that the number of jobs in large firms decreased, from 6,624 reported for 2009 to 4,851 reported for 2010, a decrease of almost 27% representing 1,773 fewer large law firm jobs.

As the accompanying table shows, however, these measures varied considerably among the 20 cities providing the most jobs to the Class of 2010, and in most of these cities the overall decrease was greater than the national average decrease of 9%. Of the three largest markets for new graduates — New York, Chicago, and Washington, DC — New York fared the best, with an overall decrease of about 13%, compared with almost twice that in Chicago and Washington, DC, although as the largest market, the New York decrease represented the largest decline in job count, over 350. Among the three cities, New York also fared the best in large firm jobs, with a decrease of about 18%, compared with 32% and 28% in Chicago and Washington, DC, respectively.

Three cities — Boston, Dallas and Denver — suffered larger decreases, about 26% overall and 36-39% in large firms. Interestingly, none of these cities is as large-firm-heavy as New York and Washington, DC. The large firm decrease was just as great in Philadelphia, but the overall decrease was about 20%.

Miami and New Orleans stand out as a tale of two cities within the 20 cities. In both cities the total number of reported law firm jobs increased a bit and the number of large firm jobs reported held remarkably stable. The number of law firm jobs reported also held relatively steady in Austin, Houston, and Seattle; however, the number of jobs reported in large firms dropped rather precipitously.

Comparing the percentage of jobs reported in large firms in 2009 and 2010 is also revealing, as in some cities these percentages did not shift much even in the face of a decreased number of jobs in large firms, but in other cities they did. In Los Angeles and Washington, DC, for example, the percentages changed by less than 4 percentage points, even as the number of jobs was off by about 26%. The figures for Minneapolis, Cleveland, Houston, Austin, Seattle, and Philadelphia, on the other hand, indicate a relatively more severe impact on the large firm side, even though these cities did not record the largest overall decreases.

For more information about law firm jobs in these cities, law firm jobs in every state, and much more, be sure to order your copy of the full Jobs & JDs report for the Class of 2010.

Law Firm Jobs Reported Taken in Selected Cities — Comparison of 2009 and 2010

City TOTAL LAW FIRM JOBS JOBS IN FIRMS OF 251+ % OF JOBS IN FIRMS OF 251+
Total # Firm Jobs 2009 Total # Firm Jobs 2010 % Change 2009-2010 # of Jobs in Firms of 251+
2009
# of Jobs in Firms of 251+
2010
% Change 2009-2010 % of Jobs in Firms of 251+
2009
% of Jobs in Firms of 251+
2010
Atlanta 341 290 -15.0 145 98 -32.4 42.5 33.8
Austin 117 114 -2.6 30 17 -43.3 25.6 14.9
Baltimore 98 91 -7.1 20 10 -50.0 20.4 11.0
Boston 524 387 -26.1 324 208 -35.8 61.8 53.7
Chicago 1,047 809 -22.7 487 330 -32.2 46.5 40.8
Cleveland 145 121 -16.6 43 21 -51.2 29.7 17.4
Columbus 107 96 -10.3 26 17 -34.6 24.3 17.7
Dallas 373 275 -26.3 171 103 -39.8 45.8 37.5
Denver 178 131 -26.4 41 25 -39.0 23.0 19.1
Houston 476 479 0.6 161 125 -22.4 33.8 26.1
Los Angeles 730 563 -22.9 392 288 -26.5 53.7 51.2
Miami 235 244 3.8 38 40 5.3 16.2 16.4
Minneapolis/St. Paul 215 188 -12.6 61 35 -42.62 8.4 18.6
New Orleans 130 133 2.3 14 13 -7.1 10.8 9.8
New York City 2,763 2,396 -13.3 2,136 1,749 -18.1 77.3 73.0
Philadelphia 288 231 -19.8 143 88 -38.5 49.7 38.1
San Diego 325 270 -16.9 69 50 -27.5 21.2 18.5
San Francisco 406 317 -21.9 249 162 -34.9 61.3 51.1
Seattle 197 192 -2.5 69 36 -47.8 35.0 18.8
Washington, DC 1,077 806 -25.2 844 606 -28.2 78.4 75.2

Note: All figures are as reported by law schools for the graduating classes of 2009 and 2010.

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