How Many Legal Services Jobs Are There for New Grads?

NALP Bulletin, November 2014

Just how many legal services jobs are there for new law graduates? It turns out that the answer is not straightforward. Members of the Class of 2013 reported taking 820 jobs in legal services — the fifth year in a row that these jobs have numbered more than 700. Although the number has fluctuated from about 725 to well over 800 during this five-year period, these numbers nonetheless remain dramatically higher than the numbers reported 10 or 15 years ago.

Based on these job counts alone, entry-level job prospects in civil legal services would appear to be doing just fine in recent years, with about twice as many jobs reported in the past five years as were reported in the period from 1997 to 2004 — a level that is a far cry from a low of just over 300 jobs reported in 2000. But these figures would seem to be at odds with cutbacks in funding in general for legal services, and specifically in the funding available from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which experienced a net loss of $40 million in funding from 2011 to 2013 and in the longer run has suffered from a substantial net funding drop measured in real dollars.

But there is far more to these numbers than meets the eye, with multiple factors simultaneously playing a role. The table accompanying this article shows a steady rise in the number of entry-level legal services jobs beginning in 2003. This likely reflects in part the fact that at about that time, Equal Justice Works began administering an AmeriCorps grant that expanded the number of post-graduate legal services jobs it funded. Between 2011 and 2013 the number of Equal Justice Works fellowships about doubled from 30 to 57, even as LSC funding was declining. Also in 2013, Americorps’s Veterans Legal Corps (offering entry-level positions with a focus on serving military veterans) got started with its first 14 fellows. But at least by 2008, the number of legal services jobs likely also reflects the role that law schools had begun to play in funding fixed duration job opportunities in a number of sectors, including civil legal services jobs.

With some solid data on school-funded jobs for classes starting in 2011, we can now see a clearer picture of the role these jobs play in the entry-level market. Overall, these law-school-funded jobs dwarf any other sources of fellowship funding, with law school funding playing a major role in generating legal services jobs. For the Class of 2011, 44% of legal services jobs were law-school-funded (324 jobs). For the Class of 2012 the respective figure was 35% (or 275 of the 776 jobs), and for the Class of 2013, 330 of the 820 legal services jobs, or 40%, were law-school-funded.

This means that, absent such funding, the number of legal services jobs available to the two most recent classes would have stood at about 500 — not much better than in the mid-2000s.

Though information on law school funding was not collected prior to 2011, other patterns in the job characteristics offer some clues as to its role. For example, before 2008, legal services jobs of fixed duration were typically in the 11-16% range (historically these included Skadden, Equal Justice Works, and other established public service fellowships), and part-time jobs typically accounted for 6-10% of jobs. The sharp increase in both of these figures beginning in 2008 may in part be attributable to the fact that Equal Justice Works has increased the number of entry-level fixed-term legal services jobs that it funds, but a large percentage of the increase can also be attributed to law school funding. We can extrapolate that in 2010 as much as 37 percentage points of the fixed duration legal services jobs reflect law school funding; this translates into some 300 jobs.

A similar calculation for 2008 and 2009 suggests law-school-funded jobs number an estimated 115 and 230 jobs in those years, respectively. Of course, these are only estimates, and there are many things that we don’t know about these jobs, but the numbers do suggest that job counts approaching 700 and even higher do not provide a true picture of the sustainable legal services entry-level job market. A truer figure seems to be in the 400 to 500 range (including those funded by outside fellowships). With so many of the legal services jobs being of fixed duration, one of the great unanswered research questions remains whether these school-funded fixed duration employment opportunities are an effective way of helping law graduates find a bridge to permanent legal services employment.

A similar calculation for 2008 and 2009 suggests law-school-funded jobs number an estimated 115 and 230 jobs in those years, respectively. Of course, these are only estimates, and there are many things that we don’t know about these jobs, but the numbers do suggest that job counts approaching 700 and even higher do not provide a true picture of the sustainable legal services entry-level job market. A truer figure seems to be in the 400 to 500 range (including those funded by outside fellowships). With so many of the legal services jobs being of fixed duration, one of the great unanswered research questions remains whether these school-funded fixed duration employment opportunities are an effective way of helping law graduates find a bridge to permanent legal services employment.


Legal Services Jobs Taken by New Law Graduates: A 17-year Retrospective — 1997-2013

  Total # of Jobs Reported % Bar Passage Required* % Fixed Duration % Part-time
1997 369 98.6% NC 7.0%
1998 360 98.9 12.8 4.2
1999 349 98.6 11.9 6.3
2000 313 98.0 10.7 2.9
2001 417 95.7 12.7 6.5
2002 399 95.2 13.1 8.4
2003 415 91.8 16.0 8.2
2004 430 92.6 11.0 11.8
2005 509 92.9 20.4 9.7
2006 588 93.4 16.1 7.7
2007 624 94.9 22.2 10.0
2008 668 93.9 32.9 20.5
2009 728 91.6 48.4 29.9
2010 839 87.2 53.6 33.1
2011 732 86.7 66.0** 39.3
2012 776 88.1 57.0** 27.5
2013 820 87.3 62.0** 18.9

* Prior to 2001, jobs were reported as either legal, non-legal professional, or non-professional. To the extent that jobs taken in this sector prior to 2001 were legal-related but not jobs requiring bar passage, figures for 2000 and earlier are not exactly comparable to those for 2001 and later.

** From 1998-2010, jobs were reported as either of fixed duration or as “permanent” (not of fixed duration). Jobs of fixed duration included those with a term of a year or more. Starting with the Class of 2011, jobs were reported as either short-term (lasting less than a year), or long-term (lasting at least a year). Additional information was collected for long-term jobs to determine if they were of fixed duration (e.g., a one-year judicial clerkship or fellowship) or not of fixed duration. The figures reported for 2011and subsequent years approximate the definition for previous years by combining short-term jobs with long-term jobs of fixed duration.

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