Legal Services Jobs - Are They Up or Down?

NALP Bulletin, October 2012

It turns out the answer to this question is not straightforward. Members of the Class of 2011 reported taking 732 jobs in legal services, down slightly from the 839 jobs reported for the Class of 2010, but up dramatically from numbers reported a decade ago.

Based on these job counts alone, entry-level job prospects in civil legal services would appear to be doing just fine in recent years, with twice as many jobs reported as 12-15 years ago, and a far cry from a low of just over 300 jobs reported in 2000. But these figures do not necessarily square with well-publicized reports of cutbacks in funding in general for legal services, and specifically in the funding available from the Legal Services Corporation, which has in the recent past confronted funding cuts and in the longer run has suffered from a substantial net funding drop measured in real dollars.

So there is something more to these numbers than meets the eye. The table accompanying this article shows a steady rise in the number of entry-level legal services jobs beginning in 2003. This likely reflects in part the fact that at about that time Equal Justice Works began administering an AmeriCorps grant that expanded the number of post-graduate legal services jobs it funded. But at least by 2008, it likely also reflects the role that law schools have begun to play in funding fixed duration job opportunities for their graduates in a number of sectors, including civil legal services.

New information collected as part of NALP's Employment Report and Salary Survey (ERSS) for the Class of 2011 enables us to quantify for the first time just how prevalent law school-funded jobs were for the Class of 2011 and to know the employment settings for these jobs. It turns out that law school funding played a major role in generating legal services jobs taken by the Class of 2011, with 44% of these jobs (or 324 actual jobs) reported as law school funded. In fact, law schools funded fixed-duration jobs in many employment sectors for the Class of 2011: 723 public interest jobs (these include the 324 legal services jobs referenced above), 392 government jobs, 364 academic jobs (many of these were law school research assistant positions), 115 law firm jobs, 106 judicial clerkships, and 36 jobs in the business sector. These jobs represent almost 5% of the jobs taken by the Class. (For more on this topic see NALP's Jobs & JDs report for the Class of 2011, and also the NALP Research article in the September 2012 NALP Bulletin.)

This means that, absent such funding, there would have been only about 400 legal services jobs, or about as many as in the early 2000s - coincidentally years in which the level of LSC funding, in real terms, was about the same as in 2011.

Though information on law school funding was not collected prior to 2011, other patterns in the job characteristics offer some clues as to its role. For example, before 2008 legal services jobs of fixed duration were typically in the 11-16% range (historically these included Skadden, Equal Justice Works, and other established public service fellowships), and part-time jobs typically accounted for 6-10% of jobs. For the Class of 2011, 66% of the legal services jobs were of a fixed duration and 39% were part-time. The sharp increase in both of these figures beginning in 2008 may in part be attributable to the fact that Equal Justice Works has increased the number of entry-level fixed-term legal services jobs that it funds, but a large percentage of the increase can also be attributed to law school funding. We know that law school funding accounted for 324 of these jobs in 2011. We can extrapolate that in 2010 as much as 37 percentage points of the fixed duration legal services jobs reflect law school funding; this translates into some 300 jobs.

A similar calculation for 2008 and 2009 suggests law school-funded jobs numbering perhaps 115 and then 230 in those years. Of course, these are only estimates, and there are many things that we don't know about these jobs, but the numbers do suggest that job counts approaching 700 and even higher do not provide a true and sustainable picture of the state of the legal services entry-level job market. Because the vast majority of these jobs are of a fixed duration, they are by definition temporary in nature, and one of the great unanswered research questions remains whether these school-funded temporary employment opportunities are an effective way of helping law graduates find a bridge to permanent legal services employment. Stay tuned for more on that question in a future issue of the NALP Bulletin!

Legal Services Jobs Taken by New Law Graduates —
A 15-year Retrospective — 1997-2011

  Total # of Jobs Reported % Bar Passage Required* % Fixed Duration % Part-time
1997 369 98.6% NC 7.0%
1998 360 98.9 12.8% 4.2
1999 349 98.6 11.9 6.3
2000 313 98.0 10.7 2.9
2001 417 95.7 12.7 6.5
2002 399 95.2 13.1 8.4
2003 415 91.8 16.0 8.2
2004 430 92.6 11.0 11.8
2005 509 92.9 20.4 9.7
2006 588 93.4 16.1 7.7
2007 624 94.9 22.2 10.0
2008 668 93.9 32.9 20.5
2009 728 91.6 48.4 29.9
2010 839 87.2 53.6 33.1
2011 732 86.7 66.0** 39.3
*Prior to 2001, jobs were reported as either legal, non-legal professional, or non-professional. To the extent that jobs taken in this sector prior to 2001 were legal-related but not jobs requiring bar passage, figures for 2000 and earlier are not exactly comparable to those for 2001 and later.
**From 1998-2010, jobs were reported as either of fixed duration or as "permanent" (not of fixed duration). Jobs of fixed duration included those with a term of a year or more. For the Class of 2011, jobs were reported as either short-term (lasting less than a year) or long-term (lasting at least a year). Additional information was collected for long-term jobs to determine if they were of fixed duration, e.g., a one-year judicial clerkship or fellowship, or not of fixed duration. The figure reported for 2011 approximates the definition for previous years by combining short-term jobs with long-term jobs of fixed duration.
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