Two Perspectives on Military Veterans

NALP Bulletin, February 2020

NALP collects data on military veteran status for law graduates within the annual Employment Report and Salary Survey and on lawyers within the NALP Directory of Legal Employers. This column explores recent findings on both populations.

Additional findings on military veterans are explored in Jobs & JDs: Employment and Salaries of New Graduates, Class of 2018, available in NALP's bookstore, and NALP's 2019 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms.

Findings on Recent Law School Graduates Who are Military Veterans

The employment rate for Class of 2018 law school graduates who are military veterans was about on par with the class as a whole, at 89.6% for military veteran graduates compared to 89.4% for graduates overall. Military veterans were less likely to be employed in bar passage required/anticipated jobs (65.3%) than their peers (72.8%), a difference of 7.5 percentage points, and they were over three times more likely to be employed in other professional jobs than the class as a whole, 9.3% vs. 3.0%. Overall, nearly 900 graduates, or 2.6% of all Class of 2018 graduates, reported being military veterans. See Table 1. Employment Outcomes for Graduates Who Are Military Veterans Compared with the Class as a Whole — Class of 2018.

By sector, military veteran graduates were less likely to be employed in private practice than their fellow graduates and, not surprisingly, much more likely to be employed in government. Overall, 54.8% of employed Class of 2018 graduates took jobs in private practice compared to 42.8% of employed military veteran graduates — a 12-percentage point differential. Conversely, military veteran graduates were considerably more inclined to take jobs in government compared to their peers (27.4% vs. 11.9%), as seen in Table 1. When comparing job types within government, veterans were employed in the JAG Corps and other military positions at higher rates than the Class of 2018 overall and were employed as prosecutors at a lower rate than their classmates. See Chart 1: Percentage of Government Jobs by Type for Graduates Who Are Military Veterans Compared with the Class of 2018 as a Whole.

Looking at private practice employment specifically, differences are also noted between employed military veterans and Class of 2018 graduates overall. For example, military veterans were over three times as likely to be employed in solo practice - 6.6% compared to 2.0% for the class as a whole. Graduates who are veterans were also more likely than their classmates to be employed in the smallest firm size of 1-10 lawyers, 36.9% vs. 33.9%, respectively. See Table 2. Private Practice Employment for Graduates Who Are Military Veterans Compared with the Class as a Whole — Class of 2018.

In terms of salary for employed graduates, the median salary for military veteran graduates was $5,000 higher ($75,000) than that of the Class of 2018 overall ($70,000). Some of this differential may be attributed to, in part, demographic differences. For example, the median age of graduates who are veterans was 32 compared to 27 for all graduates. This higher median age may also contribute somewhat to the larger percentage of veterans in solo practice, as older graduates overall are more likely to be solo practitioners. In addition, almost 85% of military veteran graduates are men. As explored in an October 2019 NALP Bulletin column, Class of 2018 overall median salaries were higher for men than women. Despite higher salaries overall, median salaries for military veterans in private practice were $10,000 less than that of the class as a whole; however, the disparity is most likely due to the higher percentage of veterans in firm sizes of 1-10 lawyers (see Table 2). Differences in median salaries in business, government, and education in comparison to the Class of 2018 overall were also observed, with veterans earning higher median salaries in these three employment sectors. See Table 3. Median Starting Salaries for Graduates Who Are Military Veterans Compared with the Class as a Whole — Class of 2018.

Overall, these employment outcomes were similar for Class of 2017 military veterans; with a few key distinctions. Class of 2017 veteran graduates were employed in private practice at an even lower rate (39.7%) and employed in government at a higher rate (31.5%). Within the government sector, Class of 2017 military veterans also took a higher percentage of positions within the JAG Corps (29.5% in 2017 vs. 24.4% in 2018). Within private practice, Class of 2017 veterans were even more likely to be employed as a solo practitioner than Class of 2018 veterans (9.4% in 2017 vs. 6.6% in 2018).

Note: Only graduates who affirmatively report being a military veteran (U.S. or other country) are included in these analyses.

Findings on Military Veterans Among Lawyers in Law Firms

As a complement to findings on employment outcomes for graduates who are veterans, the counts of veterans among lawyers which started being reported in the 2018 NALP Directory of Legal Employers (NDLE), allow us to gauge the veteran presence among lawyers at large firms, which was the post-graduation destination of about 17% of graduates who are veterans.

With two years of data now available, it appears that about 1.75% of lawyers represented in the NDLE are veterans. The vast majority of these veterans, about 94%, are men. Partners are a bit more likely to be veterans (1.81% in 2019), and counsel are twice as likely (3.54% in 2019). Overall percentages are also higher in firms of 250 or fewer lawyers for both years. In 2019, 2.11% of lawyers in firms of 250 or fewer were veterans, compared with 1.67% in firms of 251 or more. This was not the case for counsel, for whom the respective figures were 3.05% and 3.66%. Associate figures are inconclusive on this specific comparison. However, it is evident that veteran presence among associates is lower than for partners.

Not all offices/firms with a listing in the NDLE reported veteran numbers. Coverage in 2018 was just over 72,000 lawyers or about 66% of lawyers accounted for in U.S. office listings providing usable and non-duplicative forms. By 2019, coverage had edged up to over 74,000 lawyers, or about 69% of the total. In comparing the two years, it appears that about 16 unique firms/offices — more listings because some of these consist of multiple single office listings — that did not report veteran counts in 2018 did so in 2019. However, it is difficult to disentangle net changes in counts of firms because of firms dropping out of the listings altogether, and others coming in. Suffice it to say that we hope and expect that overall coverage will continue to trend upward as this portion of the data collection becomes more familiar.


Chart 1: Percentage of Government Jobs by Type for Graduates Who Are Military Veterans Compared with the Class of 2018 as a Whole


Table 1. Employment Outcomes for Graduates Who Are Military Veterans Compared with the Class as a Whole — Class of 2018

  Graduates Who Are Military Veterans Class as a Whole
Employment Status*
   Employed 89.6% 89.4%
   Job is Bar Passage Required/Anticipated 65.3 72.8
   Job is JD Advantage 14.0 12.5
   Job is Other Professional 9.3 3.0
# of Graduates for Whom Employment Status Was Known 881 33,510
Employment Sector**
   Private Practice 42.8% 54.8%
   Business 14.9 12.9
   Government 27.4 11.9
   Clerkships 7.7 11.2
   Public Interest 5.3 7.4
   Education 1.7 1.6
 # of Employed Graduates 778 29,953

*Figures based on graduates for whom employment status was known.
**Figures based on employed graduates.


Table 2. Private Practice Employment for Graduates Who Are Military Veterans Compared with the Class as a Whole — Class of 2018

Size of Firm (# of lawyers) Employment in Law Firms by Size of Firm
Graduates Who Are Military Veterans Class as a Whole
Graduate is Solo Practitioner 6.6% 2.0%
1-10* 36.9 33.9
11-25 6.3 10.7
26-50 6.0 6.4
51-100 4.5 5.2
101-250 5.7 6.2
251-500 5.1 5.9
501+ 28.5 29.1
Firm size unknown 0.3 0.7
# of Private Practice Jobs 333 16,411

*Includes graduates working for a solo practitioner.


Table 3. Median Starting Salaries for Graduates Who Are Military Veterans Compared with the Class as a Whole — Class of 2018

  Graduates Who Are Military Veterans Class as a Whole
By Kind of Job
  All Jobs $75,000 $70,000
   Bar Passage Required/Anticipated 72,000 71,586
   JD Advantage 75,000 65,000
Employment Sector
 Private Practice $110,000 $120,000
 Business 85,000 75,000
 Government 68,000 60,000
 Clerkships 55,500 57,000
 Public Interest 50,000 50,500
 Education 72,000 51,500

Note: All salary figures are based on salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting at least a year. A total of 19,615 salaries were reported. For graduates who are military veterans, 535 salaries were reported.


Table 4. Presence of Veterans Among Lawyers as Reported in the 2018 NDLE

  Percent Reported as Veterans # of Offices

Partners Associates Counsel Non-traditional Track All Lawyers
Overall 1.93% 1.10% 3.61% 1.03% 1.73% 667
By Firm Size (# of lawyers):
250 or fewer 2.21 1.02 3.49 NC 1.93 166
251+ 1.83 1.12 3.64 NC 1.68 501

Note: A total of 72,275 attorneys are included in this analysis and represent about two-thirds of the lawyers accounted for in the 2018 NALP Directory of Legal Employers demographics information. The number of non-traditional track attorneys who reported as being veterans is very small; therefore, figures are not broken out by firm size. Among 4,433 summer associates for whom veteran status was reported, 1.44% were reported as being veterans. Again, because the numbers are small, they are not broken out by firm size (indicated by NC in the table).


Table 5. Presence of Veterans Among Lawyers as Reported in the 2019 NDLE

  Percent Reported as Veterans # of Offices

Partners Associates Counsel Non-traditional Track All Lawyers
Overall 1.81% 1.27% 3.54% 1.13% 1.76% 684
By Firm Size (# of lawyers):
250 or fewer 2.28 1.41 3.05 NC 2.11 144
251+ 1.67 1.24 3.66 NC 1.67 540

Note: A total of 74,470 attorneys are included in this analysis and represent about 69% of the lawyers accounted for in the 2019 NDLE demographics information. The number of non-traditional track attorneys who reported as being veterans is very small; therefore, figures are not broken out by firm size. Among 4,375 summer associates for whom veteran status was reported, 1.62% were reported as being veterans. Again, because the numbers are small, they are not broken out by firm size (indicated by NC in the table).

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