Market for Class of 2008 Law Graduates Shrinks — Employment Rate Registers First Decline Since 2003

July 9, 2009

Although most Class of 2008 law school graduates — 89.9% of those for whom employment status was known — were employed as of February 15, 2009, this rate represents the first decrease in the employment rate for recent law school graduates since 2003. Thus, while the economic downturn did have an effect on employment opportunities for the Class of 2008, it should be remembered that much of this class obtained employment before the downturn intensified in late 2008, and in fact a number of members of this class would have received offers for employment in 2007.

The employment market for new law graduates remained relatively strong and remarkably stable for the classes of 1997- 2008, standing close to or above an 89% employment rate. However, for 2008, the rate of part-time employment was up somewhat, to 6.5% of jobs, compared to about 5% in recent years, as was the percentage of graduates opting to pursue an LLM or other graduate studies full-time, both of which are indicative of the softening job market. It is also clear that not every new graduate started work at a large firm at one of the much publicized $160,000 salaries. Although 23% of salaries were $160,000, a larger portion, 34%, were $55,000 or less. Many more graduates started work in small firms of 50 or fewer lawyers or in non-firm settings (72% of those employed) than at firms of more than 100 lawyers (just 23% of those employed). Read more about the disparate starting salaries for the Class of 2008 here.

These are among the findings reported in NALP’s newly released Jobs & JD’s: Employment and Salaries of New Law Graduates — Class of 2008, the only comprehensive study available on the employment experiences of recent law graduates. This 35th consecutive report reflects a total of 188 ABA-accredited law schools participating in the study, providing employment information on 93% of all graduates of the Class of 2008. Among the findings:

  • Of the graduates for whom employment status was known, 74.7% obtained a job for which bar passage is required. An additional 8.1% obtained jobs for which a JD degree is preferred, or may even be required, but for which bar passage is not required.
  • About 2.4% of graduates for whom employment status was known were pursuing an advanced degree, typically an LLM. This figure is slightly higher than in previous years.
  • 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, 56.2% 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.
  • Public service employment, including government jobs, judicial clerkships, and public interest positions, accounted for 26.8% of jobs taken by employed graduates, and compares with 27.3% for the prior year. Jobs with public interest organizations specifically, which includes public defenders, accounted for 5.4% of jobs.
  • Compared to the overall median starting salary of $72,000, the law firm private practice median was much higher — $125,000, a jump of more than $16,000 over that for the Class of 2007. Medians for jobs in government, public interest organizations, and as judicial clerks, increased by only about $2,000, thus remaining considerably lower, at $52,500, $43,765, and $50,000, respectively. The higher median in private practice notwithstanding, for all full-time salaries reported, over one-third were $55,000 or less, compared with about 47% at 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 48% of employed Black/African-American graduates took jobs in private practice, compared to 59% of employed white graduates and over 62% of employed Asian/Pacific Islander graduates.
  • Employment patterns also differ between men and women, with women more frequently taking government, judicial clerkship, and public interest positions. Not quite 31% of employed women took these types of positions, compared to about 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 45% of employed graduates age 41-45 and 37% of those age 46 or older entered private practice, compared with 61% of employed graduates age 20-25. About 26% of employed graduates age 41-45 and 33% of those 46 or older took jobs in business/industry, rates more than double that of employed graduates age 20-30.
  • In some cities, such as Atlanta, Dallas, and New York City, jobs in private practice accounted for almost three-quarters of the jobs taken by new graduates. In contrast, cities such as Boston, Indianapolis, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Miami, and Phoenix offered more government or clerkship opportunities. Opportunities in business were relatively abundant in Cleveland, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Houston, 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 & JD’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) and a letter or other “self-initiated contact” with the employer, accounting for 24% and 22%, respectively, of jobs obtained. Overall, 37% of law firm jobs were obtained through fall OCI; few jobs at small firms are obtained in this way.
  • About 68% of job offers were received before graduation. About 16% of jobs were obtained after graduation but before bar results; the remainder were obtained after bar results were issued. Jobs in the military, as state or federal judicial clerks, and at large law firms were most likely to be obtained before graduation.
  • Among employed graduates, about 16% were still seeking another job, compared with 14% for the previous five classes. Minority graduates, and graduates age 41 and older, were most likely to be seeking other employment, as were those who attended law school part-time or who returned to their pre-law school job.
  • Fewer than 2% of employed graduates reported taking a job with a legal temporary agency. About two-thirds of these jobs (59%) were reported as temporary attorney positions.
  • Another source of short-term employment that appears to be growing is jobs in an academic setting, which accounted for 2.3% of jobs, up from 1.8% in 2007. About half of these jobs were temporary, and many were in the law school setting.

The complete Jobs & JD’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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About NALP:
Founded in 1971 as the National Association for Law Placement, Inc.®, NALP — The Association for Legal Career Professionals — is dedicated to facilitating legal career counseling and planning, recruitment and retention, and the professional development of law students and lawyers. NALP maintains an online archive of press releases at — click on “Research & Statistics” > “Press Releases” (or “Media & Sponsorships” > “Press Releases”).

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