Employment for New Law Graduates Down Slightly, but Remains Relatively Strong
07-24-2003

NALP announces the publication of Jobs & J.D.'s: Employment and Salaries of New Law Graduates - Class of 2002, the only comprehensive study available on the employment experiences of recent law graduates. This 29th consecutive report documents the second decrease in the employment rate of new law graduates since 1993, with a figure of 89% of graduates for whom employment status was known. This compares with a figure of 90% for 2001, and 91.5% for 2000, and is evidence of the effect of the general economic downturn on the employment market for new law school graduates. The recent drops notwithstanding, in the last five years the employment market for new law school graduates has remained relatively strong, standing at or above an 89% employment rate. 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 $55,000 for the Class of 2001 to $60,000 for the Class of 2002. For the first time since 1996, the median starting salary at law firms did not increase, remaining at $90,000. Medians for public service jobs increased by $1,000-$2,000. As a result, for the first time since 1996, the differential between private and public sector salaries did not widen.

A total of 175 ABA-accredited law schools responded to the survey, providing employment information on 91.5% of all graduates of the Class of 2002. Among the findings:

  • Of the graduates for whom employment status was known, 75.3% obtained a job for which bar passage is required. An additional 5.2% 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, 58.1% 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% of jobs taken by employed graduates, slightly lower than the 27.6% figure for the Class of 2001.

  • Compared to the overall median salary of $60,000, private sector medians are higher - $90,000 in private practice and $60,000 in business/industry; public service medians are lower - $42,000 for judicial clerkships, $42,000 for government jobs, and $36,000 for public interest jobs. The higher median in private practice notwithstanding, for all full time jobs, 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 47% of employed African-American graduates took jobs in private practice, while about 60% each 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. About 30% of employed women took these types of positions, compared to 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 46% of employed graduates age 41-45 entered private practice, compared with 64% of employed graduates age 20-25. One-quarter of employed graduates age 41 or older took jobs in business/industry, a rate almost three times that of employed graduates age 20-30.

  • In some cities, such as Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, 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; opportunities in business were relatively abundant in Columbus and Seattle.

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 fall on-campus interviewing (OCI), which accounted for about 25% of jobs taken, and a letter or other "self-initiated contact" with the employer (reported for about 20% of jobs). . Overall, 36% of law firm jobs were obtained through Fall OCI; few jobs at small firms are obtained in this way.

  • About 70% of jobs were obtained before graduation. Somewhat less than one-fifth of jobs (17.6%) were 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, 12.7% were still seeking another job. This compares with 11.3% for the class of 2001. Graduates of color, and those age 41 and older, were most likely to be seeking other employment, as were those who 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. The report is available for $75 plus $7.50 shipping and handling, and may be ordered through NALP's online bookstore.

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