Report: Despite fewer jobs filled, recent law school graduate employment up

August 2, 2017

The overall employment rate for recent law school graduates improved slightly in 2016 despite a drop in the number of jobs available and overall class size, according to a new report.

In its “Employment for the Class of 2016 – Selected Findings” report released Wednesday, the National Association for Law Placement found that 87.5 percent of Class of 2016 law school graduates were employed 10 months after graduation. That’s a slight improvement over the Class of 2015, which had an 86.7 percent employment rate at the same time last year.

However, only 31,354 Class of 2016 graduates found jobs in their first 10 months out of law school, down roughly 2,000 jobs from the previous year. The number of jobs secured decreased in every sector except for the largest law firms with more than 500 lawyers, which claimed roughly a quarter of all law firm jobs in 2016.

“The employment rate has risen because the falloff in the size of the graduating class has been larger than the falloff in the number of jobs secured,” NALP Executive Director James G. Leipold said in a statement. “While the percentage of law school graduates who are unemployed and still seeking work ten months after graduation has come down by two and a half percentage points to 8.7 percent over the last three years, it continues to be more than twice as high as the unemployment rate measured nine months after graduation in the period prior to the recession, and this, more than anything remains an important marker of the current job market for law school graduates.”

Jobs in private practice continue to be the largest source of jobs for recent graduates, employing 52.9 percent of the Class of 2016. The national median salary of $65,000 was essentially unchanged from the Class of 2015, a fact likely caused by a starting salary increase to $180,000, which shifted the distribution of salaries in the upper half of the salary range.

The national mean salary, however increased from roughly $84,000 to roughly $90,300, while the mean law firm salary of $113,571 approached the mean of $115,000 for the Class of 2009. The report attributed the increase to the fact that there are fewer of the highest paying law firm jobs today than before the recession, but many of those jobs carry a higher starting salary.

Other highlights from the report, which proceeds the annual “Jobs and JDs: Employment and Salaries of New Law School Graduates – Class of 2016” report that will be released this fall, include:
•    Full-time, long-term bar passage required jobs continue to be on the rise, yet have not reached pre-recession levels.
•    Government work continues to offer a steady source of jobs for law school graduates before, during and after the recession.
•    Jobs in education and solo practice have dropped back down to pre-recession levels.

“There is some hope that we might be approaching homeostasis with supply and demand, that is, with law school enrollment ‘right-sizing’ itself we might be entering a period of time when the number of law school graduates more closely matches the number of jobs available,” Leipold said in the statement. “But, we also know that most jobs are not in fact earmarked for new law school graduates, and in many instances other than certain clerkship opportunities and many large law firm opportunities, graduates will continue to compete with other junior lawyers for most jobs, and it is still a scrappy and entrepreneurial job market where graduates often create their own job opportunities rather than being hired for a position that is vacant.”


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