Although the Class of 2015 law school graduates posted an employment rate of 86.7 percent, the size of the class — the smallest since before the start of the Great Recession — is masking the decline in the legal market which created fewer actual jobs for the newest attorneys, according to a new study by the National Association for Law Placement.
The number of jobs found by the 2015 graduates was down by more than 3,000 compared to Class of 2014 and down by more than 4,000 compared to the Class of 2013.
However, the employment rate has been buoyed by the shrinking class sizes. The number of students graduating from law school slumped to 39,984 in 2015, a drop of more than 6,500 from the peak of 46,776 in 2013.
In fact, the number of jobs obtained by members of the Class of 2015 went down in every single category except for the largest law firms of more than 500 lawyers. The 2015 graduates secured just 17,168 jobs in law firms of any size, which are the fewest positions in private practice than any class since 1996. And while the largest law firms hired more law school graduates than at any time since the recession, the number of entry-level jobs at these firms is still off by almost 1,200 positions when compared with the peak hiring reached with Class of 2008.
“The overall jobs profile for the Class of 2015 has improved considerably from that for the Class of 2011, the class that faced worst overall post-recession job market,” said James Leipold, NALP executive director. “Nonetheless, in this flat jobs market there is no evidence that the entry-level legal job market will continue to improve, or at least there can be little confidence that it will return to what it was before the recession.”
The statistics are part of NALP’s “Employment for the Class of 2015 – Selected Findings.” This is a summary of the key findings from the organization’s “Jobs & JDs: Employment and Salaries of New Law School Graduates – Class of 2015” report which will be released in October 2016.
Members of the Class of 2015 are enjoying a salary boost. The national median salary for the 2015 graduates in full-time jobs was $64,800, up from $63,000 for the Class of 2014. This is the largest year-over-year increase in the overall median since 2008 when the median increased to $72,000.
Other findings include:
• 66.6 percent of the 2015 graduates got jobs for which bar passage is required. This is an increase from the 66.3 percent of 2014 graduates who obtained such positions but is much smaller than the nearly 2 percentage point increase from 2013 to 2014.
• 14.5 percent of the 2015 graduates took jobs for which a JD provides an advantage but is not required. Although this represents a decrease since 2007, the change is slight, just slipping from 14.8 percent.
• 10.9 percent of the 2015 graduates were unemployed. Comparatively, 11 percent of the Class of 2014 were without a job.
• 51.3 percent of the 2015 graduates found jobs in private practice. This compares with 56.2 percent for the Class of 2008 and contrasts sharply with the average private practice employment rate of 55 percent to 58 percent measured in the 40 years prior to the recession.
• 29.4 percent of the 2015 graduates obtained jobs in public sector. This is up from the 28.7 percent for the Class of 2014 and 27.6 percent for the Class of 2013.
NALP attributed the shrinking number of jobs to changes in the legal industry. In particular, law school graduates have to compete with junior lawyers for most jobs. Also, within law firms of every size, advancing technology along with increased competition from non-traditional legal service provides will likely continue to put pressure on the overall lawyer headcount in the coming years and even decades.
For the report, click here.