Employment for New Law Graduates is Nearly Steady
07-01-2004

NALP announces the publication of Jobs & J.D.'s: Employment and Salaries of New Law Graduates - Class of 2003, the only comprehensive study available on the employment experiences of recent law graduates. This 30th consecutive report documents an employment rate — 88.9%, a figure that includes employment of all types — that is virtually unchanged from the 89% figure for the class of 2002. This compares with a figure of 90% for 2001, and 91.5% for 2000. The recent drops notwithstanding, in the last six years the employment market for new law school graduates has remained relatively strong, standing close to 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 full-time jobs was $55,000, compared to $60,000 for the class of 2002. For the first time since 1992, the median salary at law firms decreased, from $90,000 in 2002 to $80,000, reflecting a small but measurable increase in the percentage of law firm jobs taken in smaller firms. Medians for most other major employer types were steady, except that the median for public interest jobs increased from $36,000 to $37,500.

A total of 176 ABA-accredited law schools responded to the survey, providing employment information on 92% of all graduates of the Class of 2003. Among the findings —

  • Of the graduates for whom employment status was known, 73.7% obtained a job for which bar passage is required. An additional 6.5% obtained jobs for which a J.D. degree is preferred, or may even be required, but for which bar passage is not required.

  • A new category, introduced with the Class of 2003, revealed that 2.3% of graduates for whom employment status was known were studying for the bar full-time and neither working in any capacity nor actively seeking employment.

  • 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 26.9% of jobs taken by employed graduates, a figure that is virtually unchanged from that for the class of 2002. The percentage of jobs in public interest organizations specifically - 3.1% - was the highest since 1990.

  • Compared to the overall median starting salary of $55,000, private sector medians are higher - $80,000 in private practice and $60,000 in business/industry; public service medians are lower - $42,000 for judicial clerkships, $43,000 for government jobs, and $37,500 for public interest jobs. The higher median in private practice notwithstanding, for all full time jobs, salaries between $35,000 and $55,000 outnumbered 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 46% of employed African-American graduates took jobs in private practice, while about 60% of employed white and 59% of employed 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 51% of employed graduates age 41-45 entered private practice, compared with 63% of employed graduates age 20-25. Almost one-quarter of employed graduates age 41 or older took jobs in business/industry, a rate about 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 70% or more of the jobs taken by new graduates. In contrast, cities such as Phoenix, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Miami offer 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 23% of jobs taken, and a letter or other "self-initiated contact" with the employer (reported for about 22% of jobs). Overall, 34% of law firm jobs were obtained through Fall OCI; few jobs at small firms are obtained in this way.

  • About 68% of jobs were obtained before graduation. Somewhat less than one-fifth of jobs (17.4%) were obtained after graduation but before bar results; the remaining 15% 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, 14.1% were still seeking another job. This compares with 12.7% for the class of 2002. 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.

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