Small Class of 2018 posts higher employment outcomes

Even while the total number of entry-level law firm jobs is still below the pre-recession peak, the employment stats for the 2018 law school graduates improved, primarily because the smaller size of last year’s class meant fewer new lawyers were looking for work.

The overall employment rate 10 months after graduation for the Class of 2018 was 89.4 percent, according to the annual employment outcomes survey by the National Association for Law Placement. This compares to 88.6 percent of the Class of 2017.

However, NALP noted, the number of graduates declined for the fifth straight year. The Class of 2018 had 34,221 graduates, down 27 percent from the historically large Class of 2013 that produced 46,776 job seekers.

Also falling has been the number of jobs secured by the graduating class. Graduates in 2018 landed 29,953 positions, a drop of nearly 21 percent from the high of 37,730 recorded for the Class of 2013.

“In very simple terms, the rise of the employment rate can be explained by the fact that the size of the graduating class has fallen faster than the number of jobs secured,” James Leipold, NALP executive director, wrote in his analysis of the findings.

NALP’s employment data was provided in a summary of key findings from the “Jobs & JDs: Employment and Salaries of New Law School Graduates – Class of 2018” report. The full report is scheduled to be released in October.

In addition to the employment rate, the percent of law school graduates taking jobs that required a J.D. degree continued to climb. A full 70.9 percent of the Class of 2018 was employed in full-time, long-term, J.D.-required jobs, an increase of more than 2 percentage points from 2017 and a hike of 14 percentage points since 2011.

Among Indiana law schools, Notre Dame Law School led the employment outcomes with 82.0 percent of its 2018 graduates securing full-time, long-term, J.D.-required positions, according to data from the American Bar Association. Indiana University Maurer School of Law followed with 71.6 percent, and Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law recorded 59.2 percent.

No data was available for Valparaiso Law School.

The NALP survey shows that hiring among law firms and salaries are growing, but still under pre-recession levels.

Well over half, 54.8 percent, of the Class of 2018 obtained a job in private practice. This represents an uptick of 0.4 percentage points from 2017 and is near the last high of 55.9 percent that was posted for the Class of 2009.

For the Class of 2018, the private sector hiring was fueled by an increase in jobs at the law firms with more than 500 attorneys. Large firms accounted for 29.1 percent of the jobs in 2018 but this is still down by nearly 8 percent from the level reached in 2008 and 2009.

The median law firm salary rose by 2.6 percent to $120,000 for the Class of 2018. However, this is shy of the median law firm starting salary of $130,000 measured for the Class of 2009.

“The damper on the overall job growth is that the number of jobs secured in virtually every other sector has fallen steadily over the last three years,” Leipold wrote in his analysis. “And, despite the relative strength of the job market for new law school graduates (certainly the strongest that has been measured since the recession) at 8.3%, the unemployment rate ten months after graduation remains higher than it should be, and higher by nearly three percentage points than it was before the recession.”

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