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Law School Graduates Continue To Face Brutal Entry Level Market

By Kyle McEntee and Patrick J. Lynch

LST has made Class of 2012 job outcome data (as of 9 months after graduation) available about the 200 ABA-approved law schools. School-specific profiles and regional comparisons can be viewed on the LST Score Reports, The Score Reports are a popular law school decision tool based on employment data. They are not rankings and aid students to make decisions on a local and regional basis, rather than on a meaningless national scale.

The Class of 2012 outcome data shed considerable light on how difficult the job market remains for law school graduates. These graduates fared 1% better than last year's graduates in lawyer jobs: 56.2% of 2012 graduates were be employed in full-time, long-term lawyer jobs. Exclude jobs funded by the law schools from this figure and it is 55.1%. A devastating 27.7% were either underemployed (short-term or part-time job, or non-professional) or not employed (unemployed or pursuing an additional degree). The national non-response rate was 2.6%.

Full-time, Long-Term Legal Jobs:

The national full-time, long-term legal rate is 56.2%.

  • 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 66 law schools (33.0%), less than 50% of graduates had these legal jobs.
    • 26 schools (13.0%) had less than 40%;
    • 11 schools (5.5%) had less than 33%.
  • 95 schools (47.5%) exceeded the national rate of 56.2%.
    • 50 schools (25.0%) had more than 66%;
    • 20 schools (10.0%) had more than 75%;
    • 6 schools (3.0%) had more than 90%.

Last month, the ABA agreed to further disaggregate school-funded jobs data. The new format sheds light on how many of the school-funded jobs were Bar Passaged Required, J.D. Advantage, Professional, and Non-Professional. Like last year, these categories are also broken down by whether they are full- or part-time and long- or short-term.

The national full-time, long-term legal rate, excluding school-funded jobs, is 55.1%.

  • The richest schools were able to hire their struggling graduates full time and long term; only 15 schools (7.5%) had 5% or more of their graduates in long-term, full-time, school-funded jobs that required bar passage.
    • Many of these schools were top performers on the full-time, long-term rate.
    • Excluding the school-funded jobs from this rate caused five of the six schools over 90% to drop below that threshold; two of those five dropped below 80%.

Underemployed or Not Employed:

  • The national rate is 27.7%.
  • 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.
  • 187 schools (93.5%) reported a rate greater than 10%.
    • 153 schools (76.5%) had more than 20%;
    • 112 schools (56.0%) had more than 25%;
    • 58 schools (29.0%) had more than 33%;
    • 27 schools (13.5%) had more than 40%;
    • 8 schools (4.0%) had more than 50%.
  • 24 schools had more underemployed and non-employed graduates than graduates employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

Large Firms (at least 101 attorneys):

  • 12.2% 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.
  • At only 51 schools (25.5%) were more than 10% in these jobs.
    • 27 schools (13.5%) had more than 20%;
    • 14 schools (7.0%) had more than 33%;
    • 8 schools (4.0%) had more than over 50%.

Despite 2012 graduates taking 2,000 more long-term, full-time legal jobs than 2011 graduates, the percentage improvement was just 1% because there were 5.4% more 2012 graduates than in 2011. The Class of 2012 does not represent the apex for new J.D.'s either; only after the class of 2013 will the number of graduates drop, though the total still looks to be in substantial disproportion to the number of jobs available in our quickly evolving profession.

The students entering this fall (who graduate in 2016) will likely fare better on the job market because fewer prospective students are deciding to take the LSAT, to apply to law school, and to attend now that post-graduation realities are transparent. 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 portend economic hardship. For many, it will be impossible to fulfill their student loan obligations without gambling on the continuation of federal hardship programs.

Law School Transparency's founder, Kyle McEntee, urged caution to students planning to enroll this fall. McEntee said, "Law school is too expensive relative to job outcomes. If you plan to debt-finance your education or use 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 a sizable scholarship, it makes sense to wait for prices to drop."

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