A Legal Horse of a Different Color: Some Numbers for Prelaw Optimists

June 28, 2013
Christine Schrader

HappLand!First, for something completely different: have you ever heard the one about the psychologist studying a pessimistic and an optimistic kid? The psychologist puts the children into two different rooms: one room with filled with toys, the other with random horse accessories.  The pessimistic child simply sits among the toys and says “What’s the use? They’re all going to break anyway.” The optimistic child, on the other hand, is having a ball – running through her room and having a grand old time. When asked what brought about such joy, the child replies “With all this stuff, there has got to be a pony in there somewhere!”  (Don’t worry, this comes back around to law employment, we swear!)

The past several months have been filled with some tough news about LSAT registrations, law school applications and the job market, but it appears that at last there may in fact be a pony out there. The National Association for Legal Professionals (NALP) released some numbers last week about the job market and gave us some long awaited good news.

NALP looked at employment statistics as of February 2013 – about nine months after the majority of students graduated in June 2012.  The initial findings indicate that for the class of 2012, the number of overall jobs for graduates was up as compared to the class of 2011.  Although the percentage of employed students fell about 1% as compared to last year because of larger 2012 class sizes, this trend points toward good things for the less inflated classes of 2013 and 2014.

NALP looked at employment rates in several areas, including private practice. A little more than half of the law school graduates – 50.7% – were able to obtain a job in the private sector, representing a 5% increase over the percent of the Class of 2011 working in private law firms– the dream is still alive for those of you dreaming of that big firm opportunity, though those positions are still super competitive (but so are you!).  Although that percentage is still low compared to past years,  the number of jobs at the largest law firms is definitely food for encouraging thought, the actual number of openings increased by 27% over 2011, representing over 3600 jobs! While the percentage of jobs in small firms remained flat, the actual number of these jobs grew to almost 8200 positions. Outside of Big Firm life, the total number of public interest jobs and academic jobs has grown since 2008.  Of those students who reported employment statistics, only slightly more than 64% were employed in jobs requiring passage of the bar – a decline that might indicate that more and more JD-holders are looking outside traditional employment as attorneys in choosing their careers, as evidenced by our own study earlier this year.

There is good news as well on the salary front. The national median salary for those graduating in 2012 was $61,245, up slightly compared to the median salary for last year’s graduating class.  In our recovering economy, that is definitely movement in the right direction for people who are still dreaming the law school dream.

According to James Leipold, NALP Executive Director, “the jobs picture is improving, if only slightly. This class found more jobs . . . Median salaries have also rebounded slightly”. He also said that “the Class of 2011 represented the absolute bottom of the curve on the jobs front”, so, slow as it may be, we can start to recognize these changes as a larger trend toward a better market for new lawyers just getting started, and keep our fingers crossed that that forward movement will continue as Leipold predicts.

The job market for law school graduates is still not fully recovered, but things are getting better!  So remember to keep an eye out for those ponies…

Christine Schrader None entered

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