In the last seven years the employment market for new law graduates has
remained relatively strong and remarkably stable, standing close to or above an
89% employment rate. This differs dramatically with the early and mid-nineties,
when employment rates were in the 84-85% range. The median starting salary for
full-time jobs was $55,033, essentially unchanged from the class of 2003. These
are among the findings reported in NALP’s newly released Jobs & JD’s:
Employment and Salaries of New Law Graduates — Class of 2004, the only
comprehensive study available on the employment experiences of recent law
graduates. This 31st consecutive report documents an employment rate of 88.9%, a
figure that includes employment of all types. This rate is unchanged from that
for 2003. This compares with 89% for 2002, 90% for 2001, and 91.5% for 2000. A
total of 178 ABA-accredited law schools responded to the survey, providing
employment information on 92% of all graduates of the Class of 2004. Among the
Of the graduates for whom employment status was known, 73% obtained a job for
which bar passage is required. An additional 7.5% obtained jobs for which a JD
degree is preferred, or may even be required, but for which bar passage is not
Among graduates for whom employment status was known 11.1% were not working —
2.5% were pursuing an advanced degree, 3.5% were actively seeking a job, 3% were
studying for the bar exam exclusively, and 2.1% were neither seeking a job nor
studying for the bar.
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 and is well below the high of 64.3% for the Class of
Public service employment, including government jobs, judicial clerkships,
and public interest positions, accounted for 27.7% of jobs taken by employed
graduates, and compares with 26.9% for the prior year. Jobs with public interest
organizations specifically accounted for 4.9% of jobs. However, because of a
change in the way in which public defenders are categorized (previously
categorized as government and now categorized as public interest), the public
interest employment figure is not directly comparable to the 3.1% figure for the
prior year. Figures for public interest employment other than as public
defenders suggest that the rate is comparable to that for the Class of 2003.
Compared to the overall median starting salary of $55,033, private sector
medians are higher — $80,000 in private practice and $60,000 in
business/industry; both were unchanged from 2003. Medians for public service
jobs, those in government, public interest organizations, and as judicial
clerks, increased modestly, but remained considerably lower, at $45,000,
$38,000, and $43,000, respectively. The higher median in private practice
notwithstanding, for all full-time jobs, half of salaries were $55,000 or less,
outnumbering by a considerable margin salaries of more than
In addition to documenting employment experiences for the class as a whole,
the report clearly demonstrates differences with regard to demographics and
About 43% of employed African-American graduates took jobs in private
practice, while about 59% of employed white and 58% 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 just over
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 41% of employed graduates age 41
or older entered private practice, compared with 61% of employed graduates age
20-25. About one-quarter of employed graduates age 41 or older took jobs in
business/industry, a rate about three times that of employed graduates age
In some cities, such as Atlanta, Dallas, New York City, and Pittsburgh, jobs
in private practice account for 70% or more of the jobs taken by new graduates.
In contrast, cities such as Baltimore, Columbus, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Miami
offer more government and clerkship opportunities. Opportunities in business
were relatively abundant in Cleveland, San Diego, and St. Louis.
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 of
which accounted for about 22% of jobs. Overall, 32% of law firm jobs were
obtained through fall OCI; few jobs at small firms are obtained in this way.
About 67% of jobs were obtained before graduation. Somewhat less than
one-fifth of jobs (17.8%) were obtained after graduation but before bar results;
the remainder were obtained after bar results were issued. Jobs in the military,
state or federal judicial clerks, and at large law firms were most likely to be
obtained before graduation.
Among employed graduates, 13.9% were still seeking another job. This compares
with 14.1% for the Class of 2003. Graduates of color, and those age 41 and
older, were most likely to be seeking other employment, as were those who
attended law school part-time.
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.