Class of 2011 legal employment and underemployment numbers are in, and far worse than expected

LST’s Press Release:

Mister Hart, here is a dime. Take it, call your mother, and tell her there is serious doubt about you ever becoming a lawyer.
– Kingsfield, The Paper Chase

The ABA has released Class of 2011 job outcome data for all domestic ABA-approved law schools. The data are far more granular than ever before. Law School Transparency has analyzed the data and made the school-specific data available on its website for easy comparison.

The ABA data shed considerable light on how poorly the 2011 graduates fared. We can now say with certainty that the employment picture is far worse than previously reported. Only 55.2% of all graduates were known to be employed in full-time, long-term legal jobs. A devastating 26.4% of all graduates were underemployed.

According to the ABA data from 195 law schools:

Full-time, Long-Term Legal Jobs:

  • These jobs require bar passage or are judicial clerkships and are for at least 35 hours per week and have an expected duration of at least one year.
  • The national full-time, long-term legal rate is 55.2%.
  • At 73 law schools (37.1%), less than 50% of graduates had these legal jobs.
    • 30 schools (15.2%) had less than 40%
    • 10 schools (5.1%) had less than a 33%
  • 89 schools (45.2%) exceeded the national rate of 55.2%.
    • 31 schools (15.7%) had more than 67%
    • 19 schools (9.6%) had more than 75%
    • 5 schools (2.5%) had more than 90%

Underemployed:

  • We define a graduate as underemployed when he or she is “Unemployed – Seeking”, pursuing an additional advanced degree, in a non-professional job, or employed in a short-term or part-time job.
  • The national underemployment rate is 26.4%.
  • 180 schools (91.4%) reported a rate greater than 10%.
    • 144 schools (73.1%) had more than 20%
    • 109 schools (55.3%) had more than 25%
    • 57 schools (28.9%) had more than 33%
    • 20 schools (10.2%) had more than 40%

Large Firms (at least 101 attorneys):

  • 10.7% of graduates were employed at large firms in full-time, long-term positions
    • Graduates seek these jobs in part because they’re the jobs that tend to pay the highest salaries.
  • At only 45 schools (22.8%) were more than 10% in these jobs.
    • 20 schools (10.2%) had more than 20%
    • 15 schools (5.6%) had more than 33%
    • Only 3 schools were over 50% – Columbia, Northwestern, and Penn.

Law School Transparency’s executive director, Kyle McEntee, urged caution to students planning to enroll this fall. McEntee said, “Law school still costs way too much money compared to post-graduation employment outcomes. If you plan to debt-finance your education or use your hard-earned savings, seriously think twice about attending a law school without a steep discount. For the vast majority of prospective law students who have not received an extensive scholarship, it will make sense to wait for prices to drop.”

There has been some speculation that the class of 2011 may represent the bottom, though this view is grounded more in optimism than evidence. Rather, evidence points to a structural shift in legal employment, especially at the entry-level, that signals a new normal far below pre-recession levels. Technology, globalization, and law firm strategies are substantially changing our profession.

To view every ABA-approved law school’s profile, visit http://www.lawschooltransparency.com/clearinghouse/.

To view comparison charts, visit http://www.lawschooltransparency.com/clearinghouse/?show=compare&sub=jobs

Established in 2009, Law School Transparency is a nonprofit legal education policy organization. Our mission is to improve consumer information and to usher in consumer-oriented reforms to the current law school model. We operate independently of any legal institutions, legal employers, or academic reports related to the legal market.

10 thoughts on “Class of 2011 legal employment and underemployment numbers are in, and far worse than expected”

  1. I’m puzzled by your classification of law school graduates pursuing an additional advanced degree as “underemployed.” A number of highly successful students go on to become highly successful lawyers in specialized fields like tax and intellectual property after earning LL.M. degrees in those specialized fields. Some graduates of “non-elite” law schools who wish to pursue law teaching as a career pursue an LL.M. or S.J.D. from a more highly regarded law school or a Ph.D. in an allied field (e.g., history, philosophy, economics, psychology) to enhance their research and teaching skills, experience, and credentials (and get more prestigious letters of recommendation). A number of business-minded students pursue an M.B.A. as well as a J.D. If they are not involved in a structured joint degree program, they may have to complete their M.B.A. courses after they earn their J.D. None of the aforementioned strike me as underemployed — which my economics training makes me think of as involuntary — any more than is a recent graduate who spends a year clerking for a judge at half the salary she might earn in private practice. Speaking of judicial clerkships, if they also fall into your definition of “underemployed” because they are almost always one or two year gigs, then I see even more problems with your nomenclature. I don’t imagine that any current U.S. Supreme Court or U.S. Court of Appeals clerk considers herself underemployed; and, to the extent that a clerk for a lower-level federal or a state judge might think themself underemployed, I suspect it’s only relative to a clerkship she might have preferred over the one she landed.

  2. People seeking an additional advanced degree span a wide range of scenarios. Some graduates are in highly competitive PhD or SJD programs and will later gain a coveted tenure-track professorship. Others are merely waiting out a bad job market by spending another year in school, or hoping to enhance a degree that has proven insufficient for finding suitable work. Regardless of what drives graduates to pursue further education, people seeking an additional degree have not yet started a full time professional career any more than someone who just started law school has become a lawyer. Unlike those in the “not seeking” category, these people’s removal from the job force has more to do with insufficient credentials rather than personal reasons. They are not ready to seek.

  3. I think it’s very concerning that 26.4 percent of all law graduates were unemployed. The Law Granted School Transparency’s executive director was right when he said, “Law school still costs way too much money compared to post-graduation employment outcomes. If you plan to debt-finance your education or use your hard-earned savings, seriously think twice about attending a law school without a steep discount. For the vast majority of prospective law students who have not received an extensive scholarship, it will make sense to wait for prices to drop.” Maybe this is the time to save money and then attend law school when the economy picks up. If you search Granted, you will find legal employment positions even during these hard economic times.

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