Employment of New Law Graduates Remains Relatively Strong Despite Small Downturn

NALP announces the publication of Jobs & J.D.'s: Employment and Salaries of New Law Graduates - Class of 2001, the only comprehensive study available on the employment experiences of recent law graduates. This 28th consecutive report documents the first decrease in the employment rate of new law graduates since 1993, with a figure of 90% of graduates for whom employment status was known. This compares with a figure of 91.5% for the prior year, and is evidence of the effect of the general economic downturn on the employment market for new law school graduates. The decrease notwithstanding, it is also the case that in recent years the employment market for new law school graduates has been relatively strong, standing at or above the 90% employment rate mark. This contrasts with the early and mid-nineties, when employment rates were in the 84-85% range. The median starting salary for all full-time jobs rose from $51,900 for the Class of 2000 to $55,000 for the Class of 2001. Although salaries at large firms generally did not increase beyond the $125,000 level, the increasing frequency of salaries at this level widened the salary differential between private and public sector jobs. The median salary in private practice increased by $10,000, to $90,000, while medians for jobs in government, public interest organizations, and as judicial clerks remained relatively steady.

A total of 174 ABA-accredited law schools responded to the survey, providing employment information on 91% of all graduates of the Class of 2001. Among the findings:

  • Of the graduates for whom employment status was known, 75.9% obtained a job for which bar passage is required. An additional 6% obtained jobs for which a J.D. degree is preferred, or may even be required, but for which bar passage is not required.
  • 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, 57.8% obtained their first job in a law firm. The percentage of graduates employed in private practice has fluctuated only between 55% and 58% since 1993 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 27.6% of jobs taken by employed graduates, similar to the figure for the Class of 2000.
  • Compared to the overall median salary of $55,000, private sector medians are higher - $90,000 in private practice and $60,000 in business/industry; public service medians are lower - $40,300 for judicial clerkships, 41,000 for government jobs, and $35,000 for public interest jobs. The higher median in private practice notwithstanding, salaries between $35,000 and $55,000 were as common as salaries of more than $75,000.

In addition to documenting employment experiences for the class as a whole, the report clearly demonstrates differences with regard to demographics and geography.

  • About 44% of employed African-American graduates took jobs in private practice, while about 60% and 59%, respectively, of employed white and Asian/Pacific Islander graduates did so.
  • 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 62% of employed graduates age 20-25. About one-quarter of employed graduates age 41 or older took jobs in business/industry, a rate more than three times that of employed graduates age 20-30.
  • In some cities, such as Dallas, New York City, and San Francisco, jobs in private practice account for most of the jobs taken by new graduates. In contrast, cities such as Minneapolis/St. Paul and Miami offer relatively more government and clerkship opportunities, while opportunities in business were relatively abundant in Columbus, Seattle, and St. Louis.

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 two most common means of obtaining a job were a letter or other "self-initiated contact" with the employer (reported for about 21% of jobs), and fall on-campus interviewing (OCI), which accounted for about 27% of jobs taken. Overall, just 40% of law firm jobs were obtained through Fall OCI; few jobs at small firms are obtained in this way.
  • About 71% of the 29,118 jobs for which timing of offer was reported were obtained before graduation. One in six jobs was obtained after graduation but before bar results; the remaining 12% 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.
  • The percentage of employed graduates who were still seeking another job remained unchanged at 11.3%. Graduates of color and those age 41 and older were most likely to be seeking other employment, along with those that attended law school part time. The complete Jobs & J.D.'s report 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 over 200 cities; geographic mobility of graduates; job status by demographic characteristics; and employment patterns for all states and selected cities.

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