Law School Graduate Employment Rates – Up or Down?

What Was the Trend in 2014? What Does The Trend Hold for 2015?

 

Postgraduate life is one full of stressful exploration. Recent graduates feel the unspoken pressure to secure a long-term job position. Law school grads are no different – they feel the same weight to find a job as all grads.  Just like grads in other industries, the legal market was definitely affected by the earlier economic recession.  As a result, grads in the legal industry find the market very competitive and, further, a great number of law school graduates have found themselves immersed in a very difficult job market.

However, there does seem to be hope for the future. According to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), the general employment rate has gone up for the first time since 2007, to 86.7 percent for members of the class of 2014.

What does this trend mean and why is it happening?  The employment rate is up. But, there is a slight catch.

#1 – Differences in Law School Class Size

Law school class size in 2014 and later years is much smaller, by roughly 3,000 people in comparison to the one preceding it. The information gathered from the NALP states that the class of 2013 was probably the largest class ever to go through American law schools (Randazzo).

#2 – Law School Employment Reporting Date Deadlines Are Later

Another factor that may have skewed data comparisons between the 2014 law school graduates and 2013 law school graduates is the deadline adjustment for law schools to announce their employment numbers.

The information compiled for 2014 showcases the employment status of graduates as of March 15 (about ten months post-graduation). On the other hand, the employment numbers gathered for 2013 graduates occurred on February 15 or essentially nine months after graduation. Officials shifted the reporting back a month (starting this year) because certain states report their bar exam results earlier or later than other states (Hansen).

#3 – The Inclusion of Short-Term Jobs in Law School Employment Reporting

To start, the ABA employment statistics in 2013 and 2014 were permitted to include full-time and “short-term” jobs (Hansen).  As a result, to stabilize or boost employment numbers during the economy’s down years, law schools did a great deal to help their graduates find work in what were sometimes fellowship, public service, and/or other “short-term” positions.  These short-term positions increased law school employment rates but may have done little to bolster recent law school grads’ long-term career prospects.

Because of that disconnect, recently, the American Bar Association (ABA) and law schools actively are debating which legal positions should be considered “real work.” After much discussion, the two sides agreed that law schools will describe fellowships data separately from full-time legal positions found on the open market. However, the issue of short-term or reduced salary positions remains unresolved.  In response to those types of jobs artificially inflating employment numbers, the ABA is seeking to establish that jobs cannot be included in reporting statistics unless the job extends for at least a year and the salary is a minimum of $40,000 yearly.  If the opportunity does not meet the requirements mentioned above, the ABA recommends that law schools statistically identify those jobs as short-term.

a.  The Recent Prevalence/Importance of Short-Term Positions

Needless to say, law school administrative officials have very strong opinions about employment reporting and how employment statistics can contribute to an institution’s perceived prestige rankings. Because employment statistics are so important, and because of recent changes in the economy, many law schools instituted bridge-to-practice programs to stabilize employment numbers.  In response to the ABA’s concerns about potentially inflated employment numbers due to “short-term” work, some law school deans suggest that law schools will now be encouraged to bolster the bridge-to-practice programs further and, even, fully-fund fellowships at an acceptable pay for those graduating students performing this “short-term” or public service work.

So, what does this all mean?  How is employment in the legal market really trending?  It still looks like up!  As such, there is a reason for optimism in the legal market.  However, that optimism needs to be marked with realism.  Although there is an increase in the employment rate, it is not very significant. The increase is due to decreased class size – The class of 2014 contained less graduates, therefore, there is less competition for job opportunities. Further, the employment rate seems to have increased because the ABA pushed out the deadline for reporting – allowing for greater time for graduates to find employment.  Finally, the increased employment rate may have been connected to the inclusion of “short-term” opportunities.  As a result, although there is some improvement, it is too soon to tell if the increased employment rate is sustainable over the long term.

 

Works Cited

Hansen, Mark. “Latest Employment Numbers for 2014 Law School Graduates Don’t Add up to a Clear Trend.” ABA Journal. American Bar Association, 1 July 2015. Web. 07 Sept. 2015.

Randazzo, Sara. “Law Grad Employment Rate Moves Up, But There’s a Catch.” Law  Blog RSS. The Wall Street Journal, 30 July 2015. Web. 06 Sept. 2015.

 

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