How Has the Timing of Job Offers to New Law Graduates Changed?

NALP Bulletin, May 2020

According to an analysis of data from NALP's annual Employment Report and Salary Survey for the classes of 2008-2018, the timing of job offers to new law graduates can vary considerably by factors such as employment sector, job type, and firm size for law firm jobs. As Chart 1 shows, prior to the recession over two-thirds of all job offers were received prior to graduation. This percentage declined during the Great Recession and hovered between 52% and 54% from 2011-2015. Concurrently, bar passage rates in almost every jurisdiction also began to decline during this time period; however, the effect on the timing of job offers is not known. In 2016, the percentage of job offers received before graduation jumped by over five percentage points to 59% and has been steadily increasing since — now standing at nearly 63%. Despite these recent gains, the percentage of job offers received prior to graduation for the Class of 2018 is still nearly five percentage points lower than it was for the Class of 2008.

As seen in Table 1 and Chart 2, while all employment sectors felt the effects of the recession on the timing of job offers, some sectors were impacted more than others. The bottom came faster (and steeper) for the law firm sector overall — descending nearly 19 percentage points in three years and reaching its nadir in 2011. The changing proportions of law firm jobs within certain firm sizes were also likely a contributing factor to this drop, as differences in the timing of job offers by firm size were apparent prior to the recession. For the Class of 2008, less than half of job offers were extended prior to graduation in the smallest firms of 1-10 lawyers, whereas nearly all offers in firms of 501 or more lawyers were extended pre-graduation. During the period from 2008-2011 the percentage of law firm jobs taken by new graduates in firms of 1-10 lawyers grew from 31.6% to 42.9%, while the percentage of jobs in firms of 501+ lawyers decreased from 25.3% to 16.2%. These changes to the composition of law firm employment helped to accelerate the decline in job offers before graduation within the sector.

Differences in the timing of job offers by firm size were also apparent in the post-recession recovery. Smaller law firms continued to see declines or fluctuations over the next several years in their percentage of job offers extended before graduation, while larger firms of 251 or more lawyers never dipped below their 2011 percentages and for the most part leveled out, despite never quite returning to their pre-recession figures. (See Table 2.)

Although the percentage of job offers received prior to graduation for judicial clerkships declined overall from 2009-2014, this sector did not experience as large of a drop as others. Judges, particularly those at the federal level, were still more inclined to extend offers prior to graduation as seen in Table 3. Interestingly, local clerkships — which represented less than six percent of all clerkships taken by the Class of 2018 — have seen the largest decreases in the percentage of job offers received prior to graduation and remain off by nearly 25 percentage points from their 2008 figures. While this is a topic of curiosity, given the smaller number of local clerkships and their prevalence in certain geographic locations, it may not be indicative of a national trend.

Table 4 presents information on job offer trends for selected job types in business, government, and public interest. Some job types have been added to the Employment Report and Salary Survey in recent years; therefore, data are not be available for the full 2008-2018 time period for all job types. Some key highlights are below:

  • The percentage of job offers extended before graduation for in-house lawyer jobs declined 18 percentage points from 56% in 2008 to 38% in 2013. Since 2014, pre-graduation offers for in-house lawyer jobs have rebounded to 55% for the Class of 2018, just shy of their pre-recession level.

  • While the majority of new graduates taking compliance positions received their job offer post-graduation, the percentage of job offers received prior to graduation has increased by nearly 20 percentage points during the 2014-2018 time period.

  • Some government jobs — such as those in an executive branch/administrative agency, agency honors program, or JAG Corps — experienced less volatility in the percentage of job offers extended prior to graduation since NALP began collecting data on these positions in 2011. However, other government jobs, such as legislative positions, have seen greater fluctuations in their percentage from year to year.

  • The percentage of job offers extended before graduation to public defenders dropped from 58% in 2008 to 40% in 2012 but has since rebounded to 56% for the Class of 2018.


Table 1: Percentage of Job Offers Received Before Graduation by Employment Sector, Classes of 2008 - 2018

Employment Sector 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
All Jobs 67.8% 62.6% 57.4% 53.0% 52.4% 53.7% 52.1% 54.0% 59.4% 60.4% 62.9%
Education 47.6 35.2 42.3 40.9 41.5 37.8 34.5 35.5 33.1 38.8 42.4
Business 53.0 49.3 44.7 40.6 41.2 39.1 39.4 40.4 44.8 44.6 47.1
Law Firms 72.7 68.4 60.8 54.1 56.2 58.6 56.7 57.9 63.9 65.1 68.1
Judicial Clerkships 85.8 83.8 81.6 81.1 78.6 80.1 75.7 77.2 78.2 77.8 78.3
Government 59.1 53.0 50.9 49.9 43.9 45.5 42.4 46.2 49.8 50.9 50.1
Public Interest 49.6 40.6 45.1 47.5 37.9 39.9 40.9 42.4 48.8 49.4 51.9

Note: Jobs for which the timing of the job offer was not reported were not included in these calculations.


Table 2: Percentage of Job Offers Received Before Graduation by Law Firm Size, Classes of 2008 - 2018

Law Firm Size 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
All Law Firms 72.7% 68.4% 60.8% 54.1% 56.2% 58.6% 56.7% 57.9% 63.9% 65.1% 68.1%
 1-10 Lawyers 48.4 44.5 43.1 39.6 38.0 39.3 36.3 36.1 41.2 42.2 45.7
 11-25 Lawyers 65.0 62.4 53.4 48.7 46.1 50.6 47.0 43.3 50.0 48.1 49.5
 26-50 Lawyers 76.5 74.1 60.8 56.2 60.6 60.0 57.7 55.5 58.4 58.8 61.0
 51-100 Lawyers 85.1 84.0 70.9 66.1 70.3 67.7 65.2 63.9 68.9 66.6 70.4
 101-250 Lawyers 93.8 91.9 82.0 77.9 81.1 81.6 76.5 79.1 81.1 78.0 78.9
 251-500 Lawyers 97.1 96.1 91.1 84.5 88.9 87.7 88.5 87.9 90.3 89.6 89.5
 501+ Lawyers 97.9 97.9 94.8 88.5 92.4 94.4 92.3 92.8 94.9 93.7 93.5

Note: Jobs for which the timing of the job offer was not reported were not included in these calculations.


Table 3: Percentage of Job Offers Received Before Graduation by Type of Judicial Clerkship, Classes of 2008 - 2018

Type of Clerkship 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
All Judicial Clerkships 85.8% 83.8% 81.6% 81.1% 78.6% 80.1% 75.7% 77.2% 78.2% 77.8% 78.3%
Federal 93.5 94.1 91.0 90.3 90.4 90.7 88.6 90.0 92.6 90.9 90.0
State 84.5 82.0 80.0 79.0 74.7 78.0 71.3 73.7 72.2 72.1 74.1
Local 66.4 55.4 50.2 51.8 51.4 46.9 42.4 36.7 43.0 42.1 41.9

Note: Jobs for which the timing of the job offer was not reported were not included in these calculations.


Table 4: Percentage of Job Offers Received Before Graduation for Selected Job Types in Business, Government, and Public Interest - Classes of 2008 - 2018

Job Type 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Business
   Tax Associates NC NC NC NC NC NC NC 70.0% 81.7% 77.5% 70.9%
   In-house Lawyer Jobs 56.2 53.4 46.6 42.3 43.4 38.0 42.9 44.5 46.2 48.2 54.7
   Compliance Jobs NC NC NC NC NC NC 25.9 29.8 35.7 34.8 45.6
Government

   Courts

NC NC NC 37.6 28.2 26.1 32.3 28.3 38.7 34.0 34.0
   Executive Branch/
   Administrative Agency
NC NC NC 48.6 44.3 44.3 40.0 43.3 41.4 44.4 49.3
   Agency Honors Program NC NC NC 90.5 91.5 92.5 87.0 92.4 94.5 91.5 90.1
   Legislative NC NC NC 40.2 26.1 35.1 29.4 35.2 31.7 39.2 33.3
   Military 85.9 81.1 82.5 85.6 81.6 82.4 76.8 79.5 83.5 83.1 87.1
      JAGC Positions NC NC NC 88.0 88.0 86.4 83.8 85.8 88.7 86.6 92.8
   Prosecution 57.4 44.2 35.9 37.3 34.8 37.2 37.0 40.5 43.3 44.8 43.4
      State 56.0 41.3 31.8 33.2 34.5 32.5 34.7 39.1 42.0 43.7 43.6
      Local 57.3 43.9 37.9 39.3 34.6 39.4 38.4 40.9 43.5 45.4 42.9
Public Interest
 Public Defenders 58.1 43.7 43.1 51.0 40.3 43.4 45.3 42.5 50.4 51.2 55.5

Note: Jobs for which the timing of the job offer was not reported were not included in these calculations.
NC: Not collected


Chart 1: Percentage of Job Offers Received Before Graduation for All Jobs, Classes of 2008 - 2018


Chart 2: Percentage of Job Offers Received Before Graduation by Employment Sector, Classes of 2008 - 2018


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