Law School Career Services - Changes Over Time

NALP Bulletin, November 2007 

NALP's practice of benchmarking the staffing and facilities of law school career services offices dates back more than 30 years and thus is almost as old as NALP itself. NALP's first report, the Law School Placement Personnel Survey, reported on the 1974-75 academic year and was based on 56 schools, about half of the 108 schools that were NALP members at the time. In these days of desktop publishing, a computer on every desk, and a generation of law students who grew up with all manner of technology, it may be hard to believe that the findings were tabulated by hand and the report typed on a typewriter (remember those?), with lines and boxes drawn by hand and no doubt at least a few instances of genuine "cut and paste."

Though many things have changed from the early days of placement offices at law schools, the need for benchmarking has not. Thus NALP continues to survey law school career services offices about staffing and facilities on a biennial basis (alternating with the Survey of Law Firm Legal Career Professionals).

Among the findings of the 2007 report, which is posted for members-only access on NALP's website (under Research > Legal Career Professionals > Member Salary Information):

  • The experience of the primary professional now averages almost 11 years. This compares with just under 8 years in 1997 and just over 10 years in 2005.
  • Even as overall experience levels have generally increased, job mobility is evident, with 36% of primary professionals in their current job less than 3 years, similar to 2005.
  • More offices have two or more full-time professionals, and the education of these professionals increasingly includes a JD degree. Among second and third professionals, 77% and 67%, respectively, had a JD degree, compared with about 70% for both in 2005, and 45% and 39%, respectively, in 1997.
  • Office space is increasing, to a median of 1,075 square feet (excluding rooms devoted to interviews), compared with 1,000 square feet in 2005 and 800 square feet in 1997.
  • Career services offices are spending more than ever on electronic resources, a median of almost $9,000 in 2007, compared to $4,500 in 2005.

Career Services — 1975-2007

1975 1986 1997 2005 2007
% of offices with only one professional full-time staff member 75% 68% 36% 25% 17%
% of offices with two or fewer full-time professional staff members 100% 94% 72% 54% 44%
% of primary professionals with JD/LLB 37% 40% 59% 78% 81%
% of primary professionals in current job less than two years 61% 17% 30% 24% 25%
% of primary professionals in current job five or more years 13% 32% 33% 46% 43%
% of primary professionals in field 3 years or less NC NC 32% 18% 16%
% of primary professionals in field more than 11 years NC NC 28% 39% 40%
Median salary for primary professional $12,000* $29,000* $47,800 $70,000 $79,600
Number of schools responding to survey** 56 101 133 159 137

Note: The 1974-75 survey did not distinguish between "primary" and "second" professionals when tabulating education, experience levels, and salaries.
Since a number of these second individuals were described as secretaries or administrative assistants, the figures may be somewhat deflated. However, the vast majority of individuals covered by the survey, about 80%, were the primary, and only, individual in the office.
* Salary median is estimated because salary information was reported in ranges.
** Number shown is number of surveys received. The number of responses to specific questions may be less.


Commentary by Karen R. Britton, Director, Admissions/Financial Aid and Career Services, The University of Tennessee College of Law, on behalf of the NALP Research Advisory Group

A total of 137 law schools representing all five NALP general regions responded to NALP's 2007 Law School Career Services Survey. These survey responses, as analyzed by NALP research staff, provide a national profile of career center characteristics and facilities, services and outreach, staff structure and salaries, and collaborative relationships within the law school. These points of comparison provide useful data for future planning in these areas.

As the survey report indicates, career services operations in US law schools have changed measurably in the past three decades. Our operations have "grown up" by every conceivable benchmark and most notably in ways that highlight the increasing professionalism of career services personnel, emphasize the professional development of law students, and support the career progression of law school graduates.

It's Not Just Careers & Placement Anymore

What's in a name? Survey data reflect the evolution of the core functions of career offices and expanded roles of career services professionals. In almost one quarter of schools responding, a reference to "development" is included in the office name. Half of those respondents include "professional development" specifically in the name of the unit.

Our Own Career Evolution

The profile of our industry leaders is also changing. The primary professionals in career offices - usually assistant/associate deans or directors of the units - are likely to have been law students themselves. Analysis of job tenure and education together reveals that 86% of primary career services professionals who have been in their jobs less than 3 years and 74% of those who have been in the position for six years or more earned JD degrees. This is roughly twice the number of law trained individuals who held these positions just two decades ago.

Familiar Challenges

The final chapter of a survey report usually ties all the pieces together in a satisfying way. The final section of the 2007 Law School Career Services Survey report provides commentary on the changes affecting the career services office. While our offices may differ in size, structure, and resources, we face similar challenges. We try to engage students who exhibit varying degrees of interest in the services we offer and deliver programs and services "just in time" and using methods that will resonate with our customers. We seek to serve more people - both students and alumni - with complex career concerns, and whose expectations of our offices may have increased along with their tuition payments and student indebtedness. The reliance on technology and the rise of the web as our primary communication tool is a fact of life - one that might streamline operations in some ways, yet build layers of complexity that in fact add demands on time and resources.

NALP member schools, providing accurate and complete information for this report every two years, are in effect working together to establish an important baseline of knowledge and trends in our industry, as well as to reflect to those who evaluate our work the significance of the challenges we face.

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