The deadline is soon approaching for law schools to report employment figures for the Class of 2013 to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). In the meantime, where does the state of legal employment currently stand, according to NALP’s latest statistics?* From the Class of 2012, 84.7% of students were employed nine months after graduation. This percentage includes any type of employment, not just attorney jobs. This is the lowest employment rate for law graduates in more than a decade, and is down from the previous year’s figure of 85.6 percent. (The pre-recession Class of 2007, not surprisingly, had the highest employment rate in recent years—91.9 percent—and that rate has steadily declined since then.)
This sliding employment rate is no cause for absolute despair. In fact, the Class of 2012 actually found a greater number of jobs than the Class of 2011 (including more private practice and large firm gigs) and scored a higher median starting salary. It was the class size in 2012, considerably larger than the 2011 class size, which brought the employment percentage down. A similar effect could occur for the Class of 2013, the largest law school class in U.S. history. The good(?) news is that the decline in law school enrollment should boost the employment percentage going forward—though it is not expected to reach 2007 levels anytime soon.
The total employment percentage encompasses any type of job secured by law school graduates, whether it is legal or non-legal, full-time or part-time. But what percentage of students trained as lawyers actually ended up getting full-time, long-term jobs that required bar passage? (i.e. the kind they shelled out $150K for?) That was a disappointing 58.3 percent for the Class of 2012. In the meantime, law grads are increasingly finding what NALP and the ABA refer to as “JD Advantage” positions, “a category of jobs for which bar passage is not required but for which a JD degree provides a distinct advantage”—for example, roles in corporate compliance, research positions or non-practicing roles with legal services companies. Thirteen percent of the Class of 2012 secured such positions, up from 12.5 percent the previous year (the rate has been climbing steadily since the 2007 rate of 7.7 percent).
Citing data from the fall of 2013, NALP reported recently that for the fifth year straight, law firm recruiting for entry level positions has remained flat. With law firm summer classes unlikely to increase significantly anytime soon, more and more law grads will continue to look for JD Advantage positions. But will more such positions become available? Why should a company pay a premium price for an attorney when a law degree is not required to perform the job? Those seeking JD Advantage positions will likely have to make a strong case if the job description does not specify “JD Preferred.”
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*A special thanks to Stacey Kielbasa and James Leipold for presenting this information at NALP’s Newer Professionals’ Forum in February 2014.
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