Employment Rate Continues Upward Trend for Class of 2018; Total Number of Law Firm Jobs Increases for First Time in Five Years

NALP Bulletin, September 2019

The overall employment rate for the Class of 2018 was 89.4% of graduates for whom employment status was known, up by 0.8 percentage points compared with 2017. Despite three consecutive years of increasing employment rates, the Class of 2018 is still only the fourth to record an increase since 2007 (see Table 1. Employment Trends — Classes of 1985-2018.) Thus, the overall employment rate still remains 2.5 percentage points below the 91.9% reached in 2007, which stands as the highest rate since 1988.

The rate of employment in jobs requiring bar passage also increased for the fifth year in a row, from 71.8% to 72.8% of graduates for whom employment status was known, but remained below pre-recession levels. This percentage is up more than 8 percentage points since bottoming out in 2012 and 2013 at 64.4%. Despite the improvements in the employment rate, the total number of jobs found by graduates was down about 150 jobs compared with 2017. However, since the number of graduates was also down by about 700 according to the ABA, the employment rate increased even with a decline in the total number of jobs.

Nearly 55% (54.8%) of employed graduates obtained a job in private practice. This figure had sunk to a low of 49.5% in 2011 and has finally climbed back near the prevailing levels of 55-64% of jobs observed for the 25 years prior to the recession. (See Chart 1. Percentage of Jobs in Law Firms, Classes of 1985-2018 to further explore these employment trends.) However, while the percentage of jobs in private practice has increased for the last four years, the total number of law firm jobs had been declining since 2014. This downward trend reversed with the Class of 2018, with its graduates obtaining a modest 21 additional law firm jobs (a 0.1% increase) compared to the Class of 2017, bolstered by the growth in the number of jobs in the largest firms.

As shown in Table 2. Law Firm Jobs by Firm Size — Classes of 1985-2018, the distribution of law firm jobs by firm size has changed over the years. For many years, jobs in firms of 1-10 lawyers outnumbered those in firms of more than 100 lawyers. In 1998, the pattern reversed, and up until the Class of 2010 the number of jobs taken in firms of more than 100 lawyers outnumbered those taken in firms of 1-10 lawyers. (The 1-10 category includes graduates who are working for a solo practitioner.) Starting with the Class of 2010 there was a sharp reversal, with jobs in small firms outnumbering those in firms of more than 100 lawyers for the first time since 1997. The difference grew wider with the Class of 2011 but has shrunk since then as large firm hiring rebounded somewhat. By 2016 the two categories accounted for close to equal percentages. However, 2017 marked another fairly large shift, as the percentage of jobs in the smallest and largest firms approached their 2009 levels, and this trend continued with the Class of 2018. It remains the case, however, that the proportion of jobs in either very small or large firms has accounted for at least 70% of law firm jobs since 2000. Finally, the percentage of law firm jobs reported as solo practice, that is graduates who started their own solo practice after law school, has decreased considerably since 2011, and the percentage for the Class of 2018 (2.0%) is the lowest on record. (Note that the firm size "101 or more" is used in this table so as to provide figures going back to 1985.)


Chart 1. Percentage of Jobs in Law Firms, Classes of 1985-2018



Table 1. Employment Trends — Classes of 1985-2018

  OF THOSE FOR WHOM EMPLOYMENT STATUS WAS KNOWN
Year % Employed % Employed Legal
Full-Time
% Employed Legal
Part-Time
% Employed Other
Full-Time
% Employed Other
Part-Time
% Not Working % Continuing Studies % of Jobs in Law Firms
1985 91.5% 81.6% 2.6% 6.7% 0.8% 7.0% 1.5% 60.6%
1986 91.3 81.8 2.5 6.2 0.8 7.2 1.5 62.3
1987 92.2 84.1 2.0 5.6 0.5 6.6 1.2 63.5
1988 92.0 84.5 2.0 4.9 0.5 6.9 1.1 64.3
1989 90.8 82.7 2.2 5.2 0.5 7.9 1.3 62.4
1990 90.3 82.1 2.4 5.2 0.7 8.2 1.4 62.9
1991 85.9 76.1 3.3 5.6 0.9 12.6 1.5 60.8
1992 83.5 72.5 4.0 5.9 1.1 14.5 1.9 59.0
1993 83.4 70.3 4.6 7.0 1.5 14.6 2.0 57.1
1994 84.7 69.6 5.2 8.1 1.8 13.1 2.2 55.0
1995 86.7 70.7 5.4 9.0 1.6 11.2 2.1 56.1
1996 87.4 71.4 4.7 9.7 1.6 10.5 2.1 55.7
1997 89.2 73.6 4.4 9.9 1.5 8.6 2.2 55.6
1998 89.9 74.9 3.7 10.0 1.4 7.9 2.2 55.0
1999 90.3 75.5 2.9 9.8 1.1 7.8 1.9 55.1
2000 91.5 77.3 2.5 9.6 1.0 6.4 2.1 54.8
  % Employed in Positions Requiring Bar Passage % Employed in Positions Where JD Is an Advantage % Employed in Other Professional Positions % Employed in Non-Professional Positions  
2001 90.0 75.9 6.0 5.5 1.5 7.6 2.4 57.8
2002 89.0 75.3 5.2 5.8 1.6 8.5 2.5 58.1
2003 88.9 73.7 6.5 5.7 1.6 8.4 2.7 57.8
2004 88.9 73.2 7.5 5.3 1.4 8.6 2.5 56.2
2005 89.6 74.4 7.5 5.1 1.4 8.2 2.2 55.8
2006 90.7 75.3 7.9 5.1 1.3 7.0 2.2 55.8
2007 91.9 76.9 7.7 5.1 1.3 5.8 2.3 55.5
2008 89.9 74.7 8.1 4.9 1.3 7.7 2.4 56.2
2009 88.3 70.8 9.2 5.4 1.8 8.7 3.1 55.9
2010 87.6 68.4 10.7 5.6 1.9 9.4 2.9 50.9
2011 85.6 65.4 12.5 5.3 1.9 12.1 2.2 49.5
2012 84.7 64.4 13.3 4.9 1.8 13.2 2.1 50.7
2013 84.5 64.4 13.8 4.7 1.6 13.6 1.8 51.1
2014 86.7 66.3 14.8 4.2 1.4 11.7 1.6 50.9
2015 86.7 66.6 14.5 4.2 1.4 11.6 1.7 51.3
2016 87.5 67.7 14.8 3.8 1.2 10.8 1.7 52.9
2017 88.6 71.8 12.3 3.3 1.2 9.8 1.6 54.4
2018 89.4 72.8 12.5 3.0 1.1 9.2 1.4 54.8

Note: Overall employment rates for 1990-1998 are based on all graduates for whom employment status was known, excluding a small number known to be employed but for whom basic job type was not known. Overall rates for all other years include such graduates, and thus may not necessarily be obtained by adding up figures for individual job types. Also, in 1985 and 1986, multiple jobs held by one person were reported separately; hence legal and other employment percentages for these years reflect positions taken rather than individuals and cannot be added to obtain the overall employment rate. The percentage not working includes graduates seeking employment as well as those neither working in any capacity nor actively seeking a job. Starting in 2011, the figure includes graduates who had accepted an offer of employment but had not started the job as of February 15 (class years 2011-2013) and March 15 (class years since 2014). New job classifications effective with the Class of 2001 preclude direct comparisons of job types with prior years.


Table 2. Law Firm Jobs by Firm Size - Classes of 1985-2018
(percent of law firm jobs taken in each size firm)

Year SIZE OF FIRM (NUMBER OF LAWYERS)
Solo 1-10 11-25 26-50 51-100 101 or more
1985 5.0% 35.7% 15.1% 11.7% 12.0% 20.6%
1986 4.3 32.4 15.6 12.0 12.5 23.2
1987 3.3 31.6 15.3 12.9 12.8 24.1
1988 2.7 28.6 14.5 12.2 13.4 28.6
1989 2.8 24.6 15.0 12.6 14.8 30.2
1990 3.6 28.7 13.1 11.6 12.2 30.8
1991 5.2 33.1 12.5 10.3 10.0 28.9
1992 6.8 38.0 13.5 9.1 9.1 23.6
1993 7.5 41.5 13.1 7.8 7.9 22.2
1994 6.2 41.0 12.2 7.6 8.1 24.9
1995 6.0 40.9 12.3 7.5 7.5 25.8
1996 6.1 39.3 11.8 7.4 7.5 27.9
1997 5.7 36.4 12.0 7.7 7.6 30.6
1998 3.8 33.5 11.5 7.7 8.0 35.5
1999 3.2 31.4 11.1 7.4 7.7 39.1
2000 2.7 30.2 10.8 7.7 7.6 41.0
2001 2.8 29.9 10.3 6.9 7.4 42.6
2002 2.4 31.4 10.7 7.0 7.3 41.2
2003 3.3 34.5 11.6 7.2 6.8 36.6
2004 3.6 34.9 11.5 7.2 6.4 36.4
2005 3.2 36.0 10.7 6.8 6.0 37.3
2006 2.9 34.3 10.4 6.9 5.9 39.5
2007 3.0 33.2 9.6 6.1 5.8 42.3
2008 3.5 33.0 8.8 6.3 5.2 43.2
2009 5.5 35.1 7.9 4.9 4.8 41.7
2010 5.9 41.1 9.3 5.6 4.4 33.7
2011 6.1 44.0 10.7 6.3 5.2 27.7
2012 5.2 43.8 10.1 5.8 4.6 30.5
2013 4.9 42.6 10.1 5.7 4.6 32.1
2014 4.4 41.8 10.2 5.7 4.3 33.5
2015 3.4 40.1 10.4 5.6 4.8 35.7
2016 2.9 38.2 10.5 5.7 4.9 37.8
2017 2.5 35.6 10.4 6.1 4.9 40.5
2018 2.0 34.1 10.8 6.4 5.2 41.5

Note: Figures for 1989 and 1990 reflect only full-time law firm jobs; for all other years, figures reflect all law firm jobs acquired by graduates. Figures in this table differ slightly from those published in national reports (Employment Report & Salary Survey/Jobs & JDs) because law firm jobs for which firm size was not reported are excluded from the base.

National Association for Law Placement, Inc.® (NALP®), 1220 19th Street NW, Suite 401, Washington, DC 20036-2405, (202) 835-1001 info@nalp.org, © Copyright 2019 NALP

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