Employment Rate of New Law Grads Increases After Flat Market in 2015

NALP Bulletin, September 2017

The overall employment rate for the Class of 2016 was 87.5% of graduates for whom employment status was known, up by 0.8 percentage point compared with 2015. The Class of 2016 is only the second to record an increase since 2007. (See the table entitled "Employment Trends — 1985-2016.")

Thus the overall employment rate remains well over 4 percentage points below the 91.9% reached in 2007, which stands as the highest rate since 1988. The rate of employment in jobs requiring bar passage also increased for the third year in a row, from 66.6% to 67.7% of graduates for whom employment status was known, and is only the third increase since 2007. Moreover, the number of jobs found by graduates was down by more than 2,000 compared with 2015. However, since the number of graduates was also down according to the ABA, the employment rate increased despite a decline in the number of jobs.

Not quite 53% of employed graduates obtained a job in private practice, a figure that has fluctuated in a narrow range from 50.7% to 52.9% since 2012. Though well above the trough of 2011 when the measured rate was only 49.5%, these figures are nonetheless below the prevailing levels of 55-64% of jobs for the 25 years prior to 2010. As shown in the table entitled "Law Firm Jobs by Firm Size — Classes of 1985-2016," the distribution of these jobs by firm size has changed over the years. For many years, jobs in firms of 1-10 lawyers outnumbered those in firms of more than 100 lawyers. In 1998, the pattern reversed, and up until the Class of 2010 the number of jobs taken in firms of more than 100 lawyers outnumbered those taken in firms of 1-10 lawyers. (The 1-10 category includes graduates who are working for a solo practitioner.)

Starting with the Class of 2010 there was a sharp reversal, with jobs in small firms outnumbering those in firms of more than 100 lawyers for the first time since 1997. The difference grew wider with the Class of 2011, but has shrunk since then as large firm hiring rebounded somewhat. The two categories accounted for close to equal percentages in 2016. It remains the case, however, that the proportion of jobs in either very small or large firms has accounted for at least 70% of law firm jobs since 2000. Finally, the percentage of law firm jobs reported as solo practice, that is graduates who started their own solo practice after law school, has decreased considerably since 2011 and now is more in line with non-recessionary periods, such as the late 1980s and the early 2000s, than with recessionary/post-recessionary periods.

Employment Trends — 1985–2016


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 an Advantage % 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
2010 87.6 68.4 10.7 5.6 1.9 9.4 2.9 50.9
2011 85.6 65.4 12.5 5.3 1.9 12.1 3.0 49.5
2012 84.7 64.4 13.3 4.9 1.8 13.2 2.1 50.7
2013 84.5 64.4 13.8 4.7 1.6 13.6 1.8 51.1
2014 86.7 66.3 14.8 4.2 1.4 11.7 1.6 50.9
2015 86.7 66.6 14.5 4.2 1.4 11.6 1.7 51.3
2016 87.5 67.7 14.8 3.8 1.2 10.8 1.7 52.9

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. Starting in 2011, the figure includes graduates who had accepted an offer of employment but had not started the job as of February 15 (class years 2011-2013) and March 15 (class years since 2014). 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 1985-2016
(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
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
2010 5.9 41.1 9.3 5.6 4.4 33.7
2011 6.1 44.0 10.7 6.3 5.2 27.7
2012 5.2 43.8 10.1 5.8 4.6 30.5
2013 4.9 42.6 10.1 5.7 4.6 32.1
2014 4.4 41.8 10.2 5.7 4.3 33.5
2015 3.4 40.1 10.4 5.6 4.8 35.7
2016 2.9 38.2 10.5 5.7 4.9 37.8

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 & JDs) because law firm jobs for which firm size was not reported are excluded from the base.

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