Market for New Law Graduates at Highest Level in 20 Years, Approaching 92%

07-24-2008

The vast majority of Class of 2007 law school graduates — 91.9% of those for whom employment status was known — were employed as of February 15, 2008. This rate increased for the third year in a row and was at its highest in 20 years. Moreover, it was the first time since 2000 that the employment rate exceeded 91%. Since 1997 the employment market for new law graduates has remained relatively strong and remarkably stable, standing close to or above an 89% employment rate. It is also clear, however, that a strong employment market does not mean that every new graduate started work at a large firm at one of the much publicized $160,000 salaries. In fact, just 16% of salaries were $160,000. Far more, 38%, 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 22% of those employed).

These are among the findings reported in NALP’s newly released Jobs & JD’s: Employment and Salaries of New Law Graduates — Class of 2007, the only comprehensive study available on the employment experiences of recent law graduates. This 34th consecutive report reflects a total of 186 ABA-accredited law schools participating in the study, providing employment information on 93% of all graduates of the Class of 2007. Among the findings:

  • Of the graduates for whom employment status was known, 76.9% obtained a job for which bar passage is required. An additional 7.7% obtained jobs for which a JD degree is preferred, or may even be required, but for which bar passage is not required.
  • Similar to prior years, just over 2% of graduates for whom employment status was known were pursuing an advanced degree, typically an LLM.
  • 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, 55.5% 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 27.3% of jobs taken by employed graduates, and compares with 26.9% for the prior year. Jobs with public interest organizations specifically, which includes public defenders, accounted for 5.8% of jobs.
  • Compared to the overall median starting salary of $65,750, the law firm private practice median was higher — $108,500, a jump of more than $13,000 over that for the Class of 2006. Medians for jobs in government, public interest organizations, and as judicial clerks, increased modestly, but remained considerably lower, at $50,000, $42,000, and $48,000, respectively. The higher median in private practice notwithstanding, for all full-time salaries reported, salaries of $55,000 were almost 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 48% of employed Black/African-American graduates took jobs in private practice, while about 58% of employed white graduates 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 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 43% of employed graduates age 41-45 and 33% of those age 46 or older entered private practice, compared with 60% 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 about three-quarters of the jobs taken by new graduates. In contrast, cities such as Boston, Columbus, 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, each accounting for just over one-fifth of jobs. Overall, 34% of law firm jobs were obtained through fall OCI; few jobs at small firms are obtained in this way.
  • About 66% of job offers were received before graduation. Somewhat less than one-fifth of jobs (17%) 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 14% were still seeking another job, a figure that has been relatively stable since 2003. 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. Over half of these jobs (59%) were reported as temporary attorney positions.

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.


About NALP: Founded in 1971, the National Association for Law Placement, Inc.® (NALP) 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 www.nalp.org — click on Research & Statistics > Press Releases. For additional information about NALP research, contact Judith Collins (jcollins@nalp.org), Director of Research, or James G. Leipold (jleipold@nalp.org), Executive Director, at 202-835-1001. Mailing address: National Association for Law Placement, 1025 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 1110, Washington, DC 20036-5413.

National Association for Law Placement, Inc.® (NALP®)
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