New Findings on Disparities in Employment Outcomes Based on Level of Parental Education

NALP Bulletin+
November 2021

NALP's Class of 2020 Employment Report and Salary Survey included two new demographic items on parental/guardian education and in this first year of collection, data were reported for nearly 48% of graduates. Approximately 80% of law schools reported parental education data for at least some of their graduates. As a whole, Class of 2020 graduates who reported parental education data had a slightly higher employment rate (90.3%) compared to graduates overall (88.4%), an important caveat to keep in mind when making comparisons to the total law graduate population. Overall, Class of 2020 continuing-generation JD students (graduates who have at least one parent or guardian with a JD degree) and continuing-generation college students (graduates who have at least one parent or guardian with a bachelor's degree or higher, but whose parents/guardians all lack a JD degree) had a higher employment rate and were more likely to be employed in a bar passage required/anticipated job than their first-generation college student peers. For purposes of this analysis, first-generation college students are defined as graduates who do not have at least one parent or guardian with a bachelor's degree or higher degree.

Chart 1 shows the percentage of Class of 2020 graduates by level of parental/guardian education and race/ethnicity. Overall, 22.5% of Class of 2020 graduates were first-generation college students, but this figure was much higher for Native American or Alaska Native (55.0%), Latinx (41.9%), Black (35.9%), and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (33.3%) graduates. In contrast, 63.0% of Class of 2020 graduates were continuing-generation college students and 14.4% were continuing-generation JD students. Asian (3.6%), Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (4.4%), and Black (6.1%) graduates were the least likely to have a parent or guardian with a JD degree, although Asian graduates were the most likely to be continuing-generation college students (75.1%). White graduates were the least likely to be first-generation college students (17.8%) and the most likely to be continuing-generation JD students (17.7%).

Differences in employment outcomes among the 3 groups for the Class of 2020 are reported in Table 1. The employment rate was almost 5 percentage points higher (92.8% vs. 88.0%) and the rate of employment in bar passage required/anticipated jobs was more than 11 points greater (84.3% vs. 73.2%) for continuing-generation JD students in comparison to first-generation college students. Outcomes on these same measures were also higher for continuing-generation college students as compared to first-generation college students, but the gaps between the two groups were smaller. For employed graduates, continuing-generation JD students and continuing-generation college students were more likely to take jobs in private practice and judicial clerkships, while first-generation college students were more likely to be employed in government positions.

For Class of 2020 graduates employed in private practice, Chart 2 shows a breakdown of employment by firm size and level of parental education. First-generation college students were more likely to be employed in small firms of 1-10 lawyers, while continuing-generation JD students and continuing-generation college students were much more likely to be employed in firms of more than 500 lawyers. Chart 3 displays differences in judicial clerkship employment by level of clerkship for graduates. First-generation college students with clerkships were more likely to be employed in state or local clerkships, while continuing-generation JD students were more likely to hold federal clerkships. Continuing-generation college students were more evenly split between federal and state or local clerkships.

Finally, Table 2 presents differences in median salaries by parental education level for the Class of 2020. Overall, the median salaries for continuing-generation JD students and continuing-generation college students were about $13,000 and $8,000 higher, respectively, in comparison to the median salary for first-generation college students, primarily due to the greater share of continuing-generation college and JD students employed in private practice, and in large law firms in particular. By employment sector, median salaries did not differ much among the three groups, with private practice as a notable exception due to the differences in employment by firm size noted above. Continuing-generation college and continuing-generation JD students also had higher judicial clerkship salaries in comparison to first-generation college students, likely due to their higher rates of employment in federal clerkships which tend to pay a bit more.

Additional information on employment outcomes by level of parental education is included in Jobs & JDs: Employment and Salaries of New Law Graduates, Class of 2020 — now available for purchase in the NALP Bookstore. First-Generation College Celebration Day is recognized on Monday, November 8 this year.


Chart 1. Class of 2020 Graduates by Level of Parental/Guardian Education and Race/Ethnicity (in percentages)


Note: Data are based on graduates for whom the appropriate demographic information was reported. Overall, approximately 46% of Class of 2020 graduates had both parental/guardian education and race/ethnicity data reported. Percentages may not add up to 100% because a small number of graduates reported information for only one of the two parental/guardian education items. First-generation college students are defined as graduates who do not have at least one parent or guardian with a bachelor’s degree or higher degree. Continuing-generation college students are graduates who have at least one parent or guardian with a bachelor's degree or higher, but whose parents/guardians all lack a JD degree. Continuing-generation JD graduates have at least one parent or guardian with a JD degree.


Table 1. Employment Outcomes by Level of Parental/Guardian Education — Class of 2020

  First-Generation College Students Continuing-Generation College Students
(Parents without a JD)
Continuing-Generation JD Students
Employment Status*
Employed 88.0% 90.7% 92.8%
  Job Is Bar Passage Required/Anticipated 73.2% 79.5% 84.3%
  Job Is JD Advantage 10.3% 8.8% 7.3%
# of Graduates for Whom Employment Status Was Known 3,618 10,091 2,308
Employment Sector**
  Private Practice 56.3% 58.8% 62.7%
  Business 10.0% 9.2% 6.8%
  Government 14.0% 10.0% 7.6%
  Judicial Clerkships 9.0% 11.4% 13.6%
  Public Interest 8.9% 9.3% 8.5%
  Education 1.7% 1.3% 0.7%
# of Employed Graduates 3,184 9,155 2,142

* Figures are based on graduates for whom employment status was known.
** Figures are based on employed graduates.

Note: First-generation college students are defined as graduates who do not have at least one parent or guardian with a bachelor’s degree or higher degree. Continuing-generation college students are graduates who have at least one parent or guardian with a bachelor's degree or higher, but whose parents/guardians all lack a JD degree. Continuing-generation JD graduates have at least one parent or guardian with a JD degree.

Source: NALP's Class of 2020 Employment Report and Salary Survey


Chart 2. Private Practice Employment by Level of Parental/Guardian Education and Firm Size — Class of 2020 (in percentages)



Chart 3. Judicial Clerkship Employment by Level of Parental/Guardian Education and Court Level — Class of 2020 (in percentages)


Note: An additional 1.4% of judicial clerkships to first-generation college students and 0.3% to continuing-generation college students were at the tribal, international, or unknown level of court.


Table 2. Median Starting Salaries by Level of Parental/Guardian Education — Class of 2020

  First-Generation College Students Continuing-Generation College Students
(Parents without a JD)
Continuing-Generation JD Students
  All Jobs $71,727 $80,000 $85,000
By Kind of Job
  Bar Passage Required/Anticipated $72,000 $80,000 $85,000
  JD Advantage $66,000 $65,000 $67,000
  Other Professional $70,000 $72,211 $80,000
By Employment Sector
  Private Practice $100,000 $170,000 $180,000
  Business $80,000 $78,000 $80,000
  Government $65,000 $64,000 $64,511
  Judicial Clerkships $57,000 $63,416 $64,004
  Public Interest $54,000 $55,000 $55,000
  Education $57,848 $58,500 $56,000
# of Full-time Long-term Salaries Reported 2,160 6,680 1,577

Note: All salary figures are based on salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting at least one year.

Source: NALP's Class of 2020 Employment Report and Salary Survey

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