Employment of New Law Graduates Highest Since 1990

The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) has announced publication of the Class of 1997 Employment Report and Salary Survey, the only comprehensive study available on the employment experiences of recent law graduates. This 24th consecutive report documents only the fourth measurable increase in the employment rate of new law graduates since 1987. An increase in full-time legal employment accounts for most of the increase. The median starting salary for all full-time jobs rose slightly, from $40,000 for the Class of 1996 to $41,000 for the Class of 1997.

A total of 171 ABA-accredited law schools responded to the survey, providing employment information on a record 88% of all graduates of the Class of 1997.


  • Of those graduates whose employment status was known, 89.2% were employed as of February 15, 1998, representing an increase of 1.8 percentage points over the Class of 1996. This marks only the fourth measurable increase in the employment rate since 1987.

  • Of those whose employment status was known, 78% accepted legal positions and 11.3% accepted positions not directly involved in the practice of law. Employment in full-time legal positions rose to 73.6% (compared with 71.4% for the Class of 1996), marking the third increase since 1988.

  • As in all prior years that NALP has collected data, the most common employment setting was that of private practice within a law firm. Of graduates known to be employed, 55.6% obtained their first job in a law firm. This figure is virtually the same as that for the Class of 1996 and is well below the high of 64.3% for the Class of 1988.

  • Public service employment, including government jobs, judicial clerkships, and public interest positions, accounted for 27.4% of jobs taken by employed graduates, as compared with 26.5% for the prior year.

  • The median salary paid to the Class of 1997 for full-time jobs was $41,000, up from $40,000 for the Class of 1996. Compared to this overall median, private sector medians are higher -- $55,000 in private practice and $46,000 in business/industry -- while public service medians are lower -- $36,000 for judicial clerkships, $35,000 for government jobs, and $30,000 for public interest jobs. The higher median in private practice notwithstanding, salaries of $40,000 or less were equally as common as salaries of $70,000 or more.

In addition to documenting employment experiences for the class as a whole, the report clearly demonstrates that employment experiences differ for graduates according to race, ethnicity, age, and gender.


  • About 40% of employed African-American graduates took jobs in private practice, while about 57% of employed white graduates and 56% of employed Asian/Pacific Islander graduates did so.

  • Public interest jobs were much more common among African-American, Hispanic, and Native American graduates (5.5%, 5.5%, and 5.2% of employed graduates, respectively) than among white and Pacific-Islander graduates (2.3% and 2.6% of employed graduates, respectively).

  • Employment patterns also differ between men and women, with women more frequently taking government, judicial clerkship, and public interest positions. Almost one-third of employed women took these types of positions, compared with one-quarter of employed men.

  • Older graduates were less likely to go into private practice and more likely to enter academic or business settings. About 41% of employed graduates age 41 or older entered private practice, compared with 58.6% of employed graduates age 20-25. Over one-quarter of employed graduates age 41 or older took jobs in business and industry, a rate twice that of employed graduates age 20-30.

How and when graduates obtained their jobs and the extent to which employed graduates continue to seek a different job are also documented by the ERSS, offering valuable information for everyone interested in understanding the legal employment market.

  • The most common means of obtaining a job was a letter or other "self-initiated contact" with the employer (reported for about 30% of jobs). Fall on-campus interviewing accounted for 17.1% of jobs taken.

  • About 60% of the 27,060 jobs for which timing of offer was reported were obtained before graduation. The remainder were split relatively evenly between those obtained after graduation but before bar results and those obtained after bar results. Jobs in law firms and judicial clerkships were most likely to be obtained before graduation.

  • Among employed graduates, fewer than one in five (17.4%) continued to seek another job. This figure varied depending on job and employer type and how the job was obtained, law school region, and demographic factors.

The complete Class of 1997 Employment Report and Salary Survey provides more detail on these topics as well as others, including salary levels and the nature of jobs by law firm size, level of government, and type of business; salaries for all states; full-time law firm salaries for 201 cities; geographic mobility of graduates; job status by demographic characteristics; and employment patterns for all states and selected cities.

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