New Law School Jobs Data Indicate Flat Entry-Level Legal Market

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – LST has made class of 2013 job outcome data available for 200 ABA-approved law schools on The LST Score Reports help students make smarter application and enrollment choices using admissions, employment, and cost information.

LST’s analysis of class of 2013 data collected by the American Bar Association sheds considerable light on how difficult the job market remains for law school graduates. These graduates fared 0.8% better than last year’s graduates on the key lawyer jobs statistic: 57.0% of 2013 graduates were employed in full-time, long-term legal jobs. Exclude jobs funded by the law schools from this figure and it is 55.3%—just a 0.2% improvement from the class of 2012.

A devastating 26.8% were either underemployed (short-term or part-time or non-professional jobs) or not employed (unemployed or pursuing an additional degree). Unemployment is up to 13.7% from 13.2%, while underemployment is down to 11.4% from 12.5%.

Full-time, Long-Term Legal Jobs:

The national full-time, long-term legal rate is 57.0%.

  • By definition these jobs:
    • require bar passage or are judicial clerkships; and
    • require 35+ hours per week and have an expected duration of at least one year.
  • At 64 law schools (31.8%), 50% of graduates or less had these legal jobs.
    • 33 schools (16.4%) had 40% or less;
    • 13 schools (6.5%) had 33% or less.
  • 103 schools (51.2%) exceeded the national rate of 57.0%.
    • 51 schools (25.4%) had 66% or more;
    • 21 schools (10.4%) had 75% or more;
    • 5 schools (2.5%) had 90% or more.

The national full-time, long-term legal rate, excluding jobs funded by law schools, is 55.3%.

  • The richest schools were able to hire their struggling graduates full time and long term; only 18 schools (9.0%) paid 5.0% or more of their graduates for long-term, full-time jobs that required bar passage.
    • 50% of these schools (9) were in the top 20 on the full-time, long-term rate without the benefit of the school-funded jobs; including school-funded jobs in the rate puts 67% of those schools (12) in the top 20.
    • Excluding school-funded jobs from the full-time, long-term legal rate caused all 5 schools over 90% to drop below that threshold.
  • Although the absolute number of full-time, long-term legal jobs funded by schools was relatively small (775, 2.0% of all employed graduates), there were 50% more of these jobs this year compared to last year.

Underemployed or Not Employed:

  • The national rate is 26.8%.
  • A graduate counts as underemployed when he or she in a non-professional job or employed in a short-term or part-time job.
  • A graduate counts as not employed when he or she is unemployed or pursuing an additional advanced degree.
  • 192 schools (95.5%) reported a rate of 10% or more.
    • 163 schools (81.1%) had 20% or more;
    • 129 schools (64.2%) had 25% or more;
    • 74 schools (36.8%) had 33% or more;
    • 36 schools (17.9%) had 40% or more;
    • 14 schools (7.0%) had 50% or more.
  • 30 schools (14.9%) had more underemployed and non-employed graduates than graduates employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.
    • Last year, 24 schools qualified.
    • If we compare all long-term, full-time professional jobs (legal or not), 16 schools (8.0%) qualify.

Large Firms (at least 101 attorneys):

  • 12.9% of graduates were employed at large firms in full-time, long-term positions
    • Graduates seek these jobs partly because they tend to pay the highest salaries.
    • Note that not all of these jobs are associate positions. An unknown number are paralegals, administrators, and staff attorneys.
    • This number is up 0.7%, from 12.2% last year. These jobs are particularly unevenly distributed across law schools. Graduates from 25 schools account for over 60% of these jobs; graduates from 10 schools account for 37% of these jobs.
  • At only 63 schools (31.3%) were 10% or more graduates in these jobs.
    • 28 schools (13.9%) had 20% or more;
    • 16 schools (8.0%) had 33% or more;
    • 9 schools (4.5%) had 50% or more;
    • 2 schools (1.0%) had 60% or more.

Although the class of 2013 is the largest ever at 46,776 graduates, it was only 0.8% larger than the class of 2012. The raw number of long-term, full-time legal jobs increased slightly by 574 jobs to 26,653. If we exclude positions funded by law schools, the raw number increased by just 319 jobs to 25,878. Overall, class of 2013 job statistics indicate a flat legal job market.

The future remains grim for prospective law students. Law school enrollment was nearly 40,000 in the most recent year. The current entry-level legal market cannot support such large classes.

In addition to recent job outcome data, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects only 19,650 new law jobs per year between 2012 and 2022, a number that is 10% less than an estimate two years ago that projected 21,880 new jobs per year between 2010 and 2020. That ten-year prediction was 9% less than an estimate a few years prior that projected 24,040 new lawyer jobs per year between 2008 and 2018.

These new jobs include all legal jobs, whether full-time or part-time, permanent or temporary. The BLS labor economists base occupation predictions on econometric models, together with continuous monitoring of the workplace. The macroeconomic model predictions aim to reflect how many new entrants the economy will support in each occupation. These estimates account for economic growth, structural change, retirement, and a host of other variables.

Labor market weaknesses amplify the troubling cost of obtaining a legal education in the United States. Students entering this fall (who graduate in 2017) will likely fare better on the job market. But even if every law school graduate obtained a job, the sky-high cost of legal education means that expected salaries for law school graduates threaten economic hardship. For many, it will be impossible to fulfill their student loan obligations without relying on the generosity of federal hardship programs, which Congress may greatly scale back in the near future.

The message from Law School Transparency to prospective law students remains the same: if you choose to go to law school, carefully assess the costs and the benefits. Focus on where graduates work (geographically) because 2 in 3 employed graduates work in the state in which their law school is located. Use our resources to study law school job outcomes, engage in financial planning, and negotiate the best deal you can with the law schools that can meet your career goals.

For the vast majority of prospective law students who have not received a sizable scholarship, it makes sense to wait for prices to drop further. If you decide to attend, it is essential to negotiate scholarship terms, not just the scholarship amount. You should seek to reduce or eliminate GPA or class rank stipulations, as well as to ensure that your scholarship will grow in proportion to law school tuition increases.

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Established in 2009, Law School Transparency is a nonprofit legal education policy and watchdog organization. Our mission is to make entry to the legal profession more transparent, affordable, and fair.