Market for New Law Graduates Up — Approaches 90% for First Time Since 2001

The vast majority of Class of 2005 law school graduates — 89.6% of those for whom employment status was known — were employed as of February 15, 2006. This rate is the highest rate measured since 2001, and compares with a rate of 88.9% for 2004 and 2003, 89% for 2002, 90% for 2001, and 91.5% for 2000. In the last eight 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-1990s, when employment rates were in the 84-85% range.

In addition to a rising employment rate, starting salaries for the Class of 2005 also saw gains. The median starting salary for full-time jobs was $60,000, an increase of $5,000 over that for the Class of 2004. These are among the findings reported in NALP’s newly released Jobs & JD’s: Employment and Salaries of New Law Graduates — Class of 2005, the only comprehensive study available on the employment experiences of recent law graduates. This 32nd consecutive report reflects a total of 178 ABA-accredited law schools participating in the study, providing employment information on 92% of all graduates of the Class of 2005. Among the findings:

  • Of the graduates for whom employment status was known, 74% 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 required.

  • Among graduates for whom employment status was known, 10.4% were not working — 2.2% were pursuing an advanced degree, 3.1% 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, 55.8% 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 1988.

  • Public service employment, including government jobs, judicial clerkships, and public interest positions, accounted for 27.1% of jobs taken by employed graduates, and compares with 27.7% for the prior year. Jobs with public interest organizations specifically, which includes public defenders, accounted for 4.8% of jobs.

  • Compared to the overall median starting salary of $60,000, the law firm private practice median was higher — $85,000, an increase of $5,000 over the Class of 2004. Medians for public service jobs, those in government, public interest organizations, and as judicial clerks, increased modestly, but remained considerably lower, at $46,200, $40,000, and $45,000, respectively. The higher median in private practice notwithstanding, for all full-time jobs, almost half of salaries were $55,000 or less, considerably outnumbering 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 43% of employed Black/African-American graduates took jobs in private practice, while about 58% of employed white and 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 44% of employed graduates age 41-45 and 39% of those age 46 or older entered private practice, compared with 60% of employed graduates age 20-25. About 22% of employed graduates age 41-45 and 31% of those 46 or older took jobs in business/industry, a rate about three times that of employed graduates age 20-30.

  • In some cities, such as Atlanta, Dallas, and New York City, jobs in private practice accounted for 70% or more 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, Pittsburgh, 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, 32% of law firm jobs were obtained through fall OCI; few jobs at small firms are obtained in this way.

  • About 65% of job offers were received before graduation. Somewhat less than one-fifth of jobs (19%) 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, 14% were still seeking another job, a figure very close to that for the prior two classes. 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.

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.

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