Employment of New Law Graduates Tops 90%

The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) is pleased to announce publication of Jobs & J.D.'s: Employment and Salaries of New Law Graduates — Class of 1999, the only comprehensive study available on the employment experiences of recent law graduates. This 26th consecutive report documents the sixth successive increase in the employment rate of new law graduates. An increase in full-time legal employment accounts for most of the increase. At the same time, full-time employment in other types of jobs continued at a historic high. The median starting salary for all full-time jobs rose from $45,000 for the Class of 1998 to $50,000 for the Class of 1999. Escalating salaries at large firms widened the salary differential between private and public sector jobs. The median private practice salary increased by $10,000 to $70,000, while medians for jobs in government, public interest organizations, and as judicial clerks increased by just $1,000-2,000.

A total of 173 ABA-accredited law schools responded to the survey, providing employment information on a record 91% of all graduates of the Class of 1999.

  • Of those graduates whose employment status was known, 90.3% were employed as of February 15, 2000, representing an increase of 0.4 percentage points over the Class of 1998 — an increase smaller than those of the mid-1990s.

  • Of those whose employment status was known, 78.4% accepted legal positions and 10.9% accepted positions not directly involved in the practice of law. Employment in full-time legal positions rose to 75.5% (compared with 74.9% for the Class of 1998), the fifth 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, 55.1% obtained their first job in a law firm. The percentage of graduates employed in private practice has fluctuated only between 55% and 56% since 1994 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 27.1% of jobs taken by employed graduates, a figure similar to that for the Class of 1998.

  • The median salary paid to the Class of 1999 was $50,000, up from $45,000 for the Class of 1998. Compared to this overall median, private sector medians are higher — $70,000 in private practice and $54,000 in business/industry; public service medians are lower — $38,000 for judicial clerkships and government jobs, and $32,000 for public interest jobs. The higher median in private practice notwithstanding, salaries of $40,000 or less were more common than 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 43% of employed African-American graduates took jobs in private practice, while about 57% of employed white and Asian/Pacific Islander graduates did so.

  • Public interest jobs were much more common among African-American, Hispanic, and Native American graduates (5.2%, 5.6% and 4.2% of employed graduates, respectively) than among white and Asian/Pacific Islander graduates (2.3% and 2.8% 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 47% of employed graduates age 41-45 entered private practice, compared with 60% of employed graduates age 20-25. Over one-quarter of employed graduates age 41 or older took jobs in business/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 Jobs & J.D.'s, 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 24% of jobs). Fall on-campus interviewing (OCI) accounted for 23% of jobs taken. Overall just one-third of law firm jobs were obtained through Fall OCI; few jobs at small firms are obtained in this way.

  • About 68% of the 28,730 jobs for which timing of offer was reported were obtained before graduation. One in five jobs was obtained after graduation but before bar results; the remaining 13% were obtained after bar results were issued. Jobs in the military, state or federal judicial clerks, and at large law firms were most likely to be obtained before graduation.

  • Among employed graduates, fewer than one in seven (13.5%) 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.

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