It’s hard for me to believe I graduated from law school almost five years ago. In a sense, the time has flown; aside from some musculoskeletal complaints and a few new wrinkles (I did work in BigLaw for a time, after all), I don’t really feel much older. But 2010 was far enough in the distant past, apparently, that it warrants a case study of us graduates to test the strength of the legal job market. The study, authored by Ohio State University law professor Deborah Jones Merritt, and summarized by the WSJ Law Blog, concludes that law school graduates of the class of 2010 are not having an easier time now than we did back then. And do you remember, classmates, what a hellish time it was? Merritt writes, “Even after several years in the workforce, the law school class of 2010 struggles to secure jobs that require bar admission.”
Granted, the study only tracks one state—Ohio—focusing on the job outcomes for the 1,214 new attorneys admitted to the Ohio bar in 2010. I’m curious as to whether the rest of the 2010 class, specifically those spread out across major U.S. cities, is doing as poorly as the Ohio subset. Merritt’s study found that the unemployment rate has remained at 6.3% and that 20% of 2010 grads work in jobs that do not require a law degree. There has been no increase in the percentage of 2010 grads working in law firms; it has stayed at 40% while the percent of solo practitioners is on the rise. “Job outcomes have improved only marginally for the Class of 2010, those outcomes contrast sharply with results for earlier classes, and law firm jobs have dropped markedly,” concluded Merritt.
This less-than-rosy outlook contrasts with the optimistic predictions espoused by Berkeley Law professor Steven Davidoff Solomon in a NY Times article last week. Solomon points to “signs of vigorous life” in the legal job market, including a 93.2% employment rate among 2013 grads of Georgetown Law.
But if you take a look at Northwestern Law professor Steven J. Harper’s response to the Times article, published in The American Lawyer, it’s easier to understand how the Class of 2010 could still be struggling. Harper's point-by-point challenges of Solomon’s statements include a breakdown of the seemingly cheery stats for the Georgetown Law Class of 2013:
That number includes: 83 law school-funded positions, 12 part-time and/or short-term jobs, and 51 jobs not requiring a J.D. Georgetown’s full-time, long-term, non-law school-funded J.D.-required employment rate for 2013 graduates was 72.4 percent—and Georgetown is a top law school. The overall average for all law schools was 56 percent.
Harper also criticizes the assertion that growth among large firms (profits and modest hiring) evidences a healthy legal market, stating that “big firms constitute only about 15 percent of the profession and hire almost exclusively from the very top law schools.” He points out that legal services sector jobs were down 2,300 from where they were a year ago, according to the March report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So where does that leave all of us 2010 grads, many of whom are ready to escape BigLaw for something more fulfilling or manageable? Certainly with fewer choices than our counterparts from the Class of 2000. Merritt concludes: “Although a recession shadowed the early years of that class’s employment, the 2000 graduates substantially bettered their positions as they moved into their careers. That type of progress did not occur for the Class of 2010.”
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