ABA Journal


Law Schools

Is the legal job market really that lousy? Conventional wisdom ignores the long term, law prof says

May 2, 2013, 10:34 am CDT


Well, there you go. Two years out, the jobless picture is only in the 20%-30% range. Problem solved!

By B. McLeod on 2013 05 02, 12:14 pm CDT

B. McLeod, why don't you actually follow the link and read the post? You will see why your comment is, to put it delicately, not a good one.

By Ben Barros on 2013 05 02, 1:45 pm CDT

The job numbers tend to be a joke because they are based on self reporting. I didn't even bother replying to my law school after graduating when they asked what I was doing.

The legal job market will self correct in a decade or so when document review is entirely computerized and big law realizes that they can't perpetually rely on lateral hires and that they need lower level associated to actually, you know, do the work.

By Bob on 2013 05 02, 2:42 pm CDT

Bob, like B. McLeod you would benefit from reading the post. The job numbers I discuss are not self-reported.

By Ben Barros on 2013 05 02, 3:30 pm CDT

Professor Barros, I'm not sure why the defensiveness unless you disagree with your own statement that "Nine-month data, however, simply does not tell the whole story of the employment outcomes for any particular graduating class." I agree with you on this point as I did in the first paragraph of my last post.

I also commented on how law firms are reacting to the economic decline - through retrenchment and lateral hires and a reduction in the entry level work force. This puts law grads in a chicken and egg situation - you can't get experience without a job, but you need a job to get experience. Why would somebody hire somebody fresh out of school (even from a "practical skills" program) if somebody already on the market with a book of business can be hired at bargain wages?

I would expect that the market would self correct at some point, but as with the IT market in the 90's boom, given the large glut of attorneys it could take a decade. In sum, your thesis seems to be that the weakness in the jobs numbers aren't structural but rather economic, which I agree with.

Lastly, it would be interesting to see how the data squares for the "non-traditional JD career path." Your take on the data is to exclude everyone except those who intend to practice, but the inverse question about whether a law degree is a worthwhile investment for those who go to school KNOWING that they don't want to practice is a worthwhile question to explore.

By Bob on 2013 05 02, 4:40 pm CDT

@ 4: I read it. There's information, and then there's verifiable information.

By BMF on 2013 05 02, 7:49 pm CDT

As for the notion that anyone could "benefit" from reading the post, I don't see how. How is it helpful to anyone (or even of the slightest interest) that the terrible job picture is a hair less terrible than some people think? Barros must have been at that point where he had to write something (anything) to pump up his "faculty publication" statistic.

By B. McLeod on 2013 05 02, 10:51 pm CDT

short-term or long-term

What matters is how many graduates can or can't pay their living expenses and loans, while waiting for that law job or even after.

By Steve on 2013 05 03, 12:35 am CDT

We need employment statistics for law graduates that go out many years from graduation. The long-term employment statistics are horrible even from top law schools. There is a very high level of unemployment and underemployment. For older law school classes, there is outright age discrimination and a real full-time permanent legal employment rate of under 30 % at low median incomes for those who find work. This unemployment and underemployment hits older women and minority lawyers hardest. As one of the hundreds of thousands of lost lawyers with degrees from two of the highest rated schools in the country, college and law, I should know. I have spent the last decade in unemployment and contract work and have devoted my life to this job search. Do not plan on working for more than a few years as a lawyer. Most of you will no find work.

By Guest on 2013 05 03, 6:43 am CDT

The law schools have killed the experienced job market by flooding the market with new grads who are pushing the older grads out of work in an "up or out" system. The salaries from the top law schools 20 years out are much lower, maybe even by half, than the salary plus benefits of a public school teacher in the same city with the same experience level.

By Anonymous on 2013 05 03, 7:00 am CDT

Just so you understand the comparison, a janitor working for New York City earns $140,000, half in salary and half in benefits. The median income of a Columbia or NYU Law grad 25 years out- much less than the janitor.

By Guest on 2013 05 03, 7:09 am CDT

@ Ben Barros.

So now that law schools are posting more accurate post-graduate employment statistics, and law school enrollments are consequently dropping, are you encouraging law students to ignore these statistics by dismissing their relevance?

By William Able on 2013 05 03, 9:54 am CDT

No. 10, you are delusional if you really think new grads are pushing experienced lawyers out of work.

By B. McLeod on 2013 05 03, 12:17 pm CDT

Those that hang on to the old law firm model will be disappointed in the future.

By BIG FAT UGLY OLD FEMALE LAWYER on 2013 05 03, 1:31 pm CDT

Realize that the Faculty Lounge website is essentially a site for professors from low-ranked law schools to prop up each other's egos. Trotting out flimsy defenses of the status quo and trying to minimize the awful consequences of attending their law schools to their graduates is nothing new.

By Recent JD on 2013 05 03, 1:40 pm CDT

"This post focuses on the preliminary results of a study of the current employment of Widener-Harrisburg graduates from the classes of 2010 and 2011." Aaaand this is where I stopped reading. It is nice to see, however, that someone that did not go to particularly well-regarding schools, and did not do particularly well at those schools, can actually make a living in legal academia and get some recognition for vaguely insightful research findings. Kudos.

By Recent Grad with a J.D. Req'd Job on 2013 05 03, 2:13 pm CDT

Look, law professors and statistics aside, all I really care about is MY job prospects. 4 years after graduating and passing a bar and then getting admitted in 4 other states, I can still barely get an interview. It's frustrating to say the least, and now I'm relocating across country for the second time to get work. Ridiculous? Yes... Where's the freaking jobs?! My great grandfather told stories about lawyers digging ditches with doctors and bank managers back in the Great Depression. This is the same thing!

By LawJake on 2013 05 03, 2:39 pm CDT

Gee. I'm so relieved to hear that "only" THREE YEARS AFTER GRADUATION, "only" 20 percent of their law grads were unemployed. But set aside all those document review numbers, and what do you have? 50 percent unemployment? 70? Or more?

Also, just curious: during those three years of unemployment, post law school, how did they pay off their $150,000 to $250,000 debts? By waiting tables and tending bar, like most of the people I took the bar exam with are doing?

A knowledgable law professor I know (at a top school) warned a friend away from law school in 2010. Recently, he told a graduate that he estimates the placement rate, a few months after graduation, at about 6 percent. To clarify, that would be SIX PERCENT. Not sure where he got that figure, but from what I'm seeing, he might well be right. He's just the only one bold enough to say it.

By Blondie on 2013 05 03, 3:00 pm CDT

It's a free country. You can get a law degree if you want to. People can hire you as a lawyer if they want to. No one can stop you but then no one owes you a living. Free is a double-edged sword.

Of course, we could have a not-free system where you are guaranteed a job if you are well-connected enough to get into a profession. Isn't that the underlying idea of the bar exam and licensing controls? Maybe we would rather not be free after all.

By LawLOL on 2013 05 03, 3:10 pm CDT

“It is highly likely that more recent graduates throughout the country are getting law jobs than the conventional wisdom assumes.”

Such strong language! All these young attorneys who list P.O. Boxes and cellphone numbers on their State Bar Card must be fakin' it.

By You call this coffee!? on 2013 05 03, 3:26 pm CDT

@19 You are missing the point by a mile.

It's not about being "guaranteed a job." It's about being told, up front, what your REAL chances of finding a job actually are, BEFORE applying to law school, and how little that job is likely to PAY, now that law school tuition has more nearly DOUBLED in the past decade and jobs have declined by the hundreds of thousands, even as law schools pump out hundreds of thousands of graduates every year, assuring each incoming year that "Things are not what they seem. Don't listen to the liberal media."

No one expected the recession. So there are students, granted, who got caught unaware, just like people in all the other hard-hit professions did. Fair enough. But now that the numbers are what they are (and they ARE abysmal), the law schools must be honest. THAT is the problem--their insistence that the king's clothes are just lovely, when he's actually wearing none at all. Oh, and maybe, just maybe, the ever-growing, tenured salaries and luxury vacations of professors that law students keep financing, too, while unwittingly mortgaging their futures.

See, it's that "unwitting" part that is the issue--not any so-called "entitlement mentality." The more we talk about it, the more likely they are to be persuaded to be cautious, against all the law school arguments to the contrary.

Unless, of course, the ABA continues accrediting more and more private schools, so that all of those retired law professors from state schools (who start these new, private law schools) can get yet ANOTHER tenured salary, on top of their pensions. In which case the problem is only going to grow.

Oh, wait. That IS what's happening. But hey, thank God we live in a free country, right? A country where we DON'T need to be "well connected" at all, or go to an expensive law school to get a job in law. Nah!

Now where's my flag? I need to wave it while I eat my Mexican burrito on my Taiwanese plate.

By Blondie on 2013 05 03, 3:39 pm CDT

Recent law graduates are looking for a long-term legal job that utilizes their skills and is able to help pay off their law school loans. However, this has not always been an easy thing for them to get, especially recently. What this study shows is that over time, students have reason to hope, at least a little bit more. While nine months after graduation, many law students are not employment in legal jobs that meet their requirements, when 3 years have passed, many more of them are employed in a legal career. Granted, even the numbers employed after 3 years is around 70 to 74 percent, which is not the best, but it is much better than their employment prospects right after law school. As fewer law students enroll in law school and as graduating classes get smaller each year, the current problem of too many lawyers and not enough positions will slowly get better. According to the BLS, attorneys are predicted to grow by 10% from 2010 to 2020, which is good news for new attorneys entering the field.

By Andrew on 2013 05 03, 5:42 pm CDT

It doesn't show much of anything, really. Even assuming its data is accurate, it only relates to the job results of students from one campus of one law school from two classes, far, far too little information to draw any conclusions about job results for graduates nationwide, or even regionally. Moreover, it provides no information about the salaries earned or likely to be earned even for those students in the survey, which could be even more important information than whether or not graduates found some job eventually.

By Recent JD on 2013 05 03, 5:56 pm CDT

13, B. McLeod:

I work biglaw. He's right, and you're wrong. I recently saw a 15 year of counsel fired (140k/yr or so) and a newbie brought in at 70k/yr to do his work. That's reality. It doesn't matter that you're getting lower quality work or that it's coming slower. The point is that it's harder to get the guy in his late 40's to work 80+ hours than the guy in his 20's. And that's how it works. You work the kid at 70k/yr for 80/week until he pops, then just go get another one and plug it in the next week easy peasy. Just like changing a light bulb.

By associate on 2013 05 03, 7:14 pm CDT

Even if you accept that the prospects of financially adequate employment improve significantly beyond 9 months after graduation, what about the fact that graduates have, at that point, likely become so deperate for any legal job that they feel obligated to take whatever they can get? The difference between a legal job in an area that you choose and enjoy versus an area where you wind up by default because no one else would hire you is night and day.

If it takes years for a graduate to find a job, I doubt it is because they are holding out for the job they want. I think it is far more likely that they are abandoning the search for a job they really want because they have no leverage to be picky. And once you are, effectively, forced out of necessity into taking a position without regard to practice environment or area, that really means that you found yourself with less options, rather than more, which is the opposite situation of what you presumably intended by enrolling in law school.

What I am getting at is, "who cares what percentage of graduates are employed in JD-requiring positions if they had to take jobs they would not have wanted before they started law school?" The fact that they eventually find jobs says almost nothing to me about whether their career outlook has really improved in the long run thanks to law school; it's not like they can easily go from a third-year attorney at a personal injury law firm (that they hate) to a fourth year attorney practicing intellectual property that they used to love.

By BCoolBen on 2013 05 03, 7:26 pm CDT

Anecdotal, but I graduated from a "good" school two years ago and am currently employed at a JD required position. I also make less than a teacher and have no benefits. Over 100 lawyers applied for this position before I got it. Also, this is after I left my first job, JD required, where I was making less than ~$30,000 a year. I would love to not have the massive law school debt so at least my piddly salary could cover my cost of living.

By alee on 2013 05 03, 9:45 pm CDT

If it's Big Law, who cares? In rational market sectors, newbies aren't going to displace experienced attorneys just by working 80+ hours a week. Even within Big Law, that hour load just means the newbies will burn out and be pitched over the side faster.

By B. McLeod on 2013 05 03, 11:03 pm CDT

I graduated and passed the bar in 2011. I have spent the past two years looking for work as a lawyer. I have yet to find it. I have applied for more than 200 jobs and out of that have gotten about half a dozen interviews. I have taken paralegal jobs to try to get by, but they pay much less than I used to make, and I cannot pay my bills. My house is now in foreclosure, my savings are depleted, and I am faced with the need to move across country to try to get licensed in another state (or states) and find work in a better job market (if such a place exists). When I researched law school as an option, the employment and bar-passage figures for my school were above 90%. When I attended open houses, the deans and professors said that if we got accepted and graduated, then our futures would be assured. Employers would be falling all over themselves to hire us, and we need not worry about those massive student loans, because in a few years we'd all be making six figures and payback would be no problem. During orientation week, the Dean told us all we had "won the lottery" simply by being accepted to that school. Law schools are lying to prospective students. Law schools must offer much better job-placement programs and must lower tuition if grads are ever to have a prayer of paying back loans. At this time, I doubt I will EVER find work as a lawyer. I anticipate returning to my former profession. I regret going to law school. It was the biggest mistake of my life.

By Unemployed J.D. on 2013 05 03, 11:31 pm CDT

@ 28. Unemployed J.D.

It sounds like you have your law school's marketing lines down pat. Perhaps you can get a job with their admissions department and recruit future students. It may not be the most ethical option, but then recall the motto that "hypocrisy makes the world go round!"

What region are you in? It sounds as if both unemployment is high there and housing prices are still "underwater". (Curious as to the law school, too, but that may be too personal).

One piece of advice. Focus on applying to positions that you are really interested in; you'll connect better with potential employers. If they like you, you might get some contract work even if you don't get the position. I realize that you have a mortgage to pay, but the shotgun approach often doesn't work well post graduation.

By William Able on 2013 05 04, 12:42 am CDT

beware the traps set by the ABA, the NALP, US NEWS, etc. All these institutions are controlled by the law school cartel. This is an industry that has paid off the judges and the politicians,.

They BUY statistics and studies to better entrap and indebt young kids. Stay far away from these predators.

By joe ex-lawyer on 2013 05 05, 12:48 pm CDT

Ah, yes, the evil law school cartel that controls the known world. It will get you if you let it. BUWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

By B. McLeod on 2013 05 05, 2:26 pm CDT

28. is the norm, not the exception. My guess is the real "Lawyer" employment rate 2 years after graduations in 05 or later is closer to 66%, maybe as low at 50%

By Stone on 2013 05 06, 4:54 pm CDT

# 28, Unemployed J.D.

I am sad that you feel betrayed by the establishment and look at your law school education as a bad decision. Look at it differently. You are your job. If you want to practice, you have a skill set that is valuable to many regular people, who do not go to big law firms for help. These are people, who may be struggling, as you are right now, but they need help and can pay a reasonable fee. Working for yourself will allow you the opportunity to appropriately value your work product, go to court, decide which cases to take, volunteer at your child’s school and attend your child’s extra curricular events, if you want to. You will have control over your life while helping people. If you do not want to fly solo for ever, you will at least have some income to save your home and tied you over until you get a job.

There are pros and cons with both, but until you find what you want, work with what you have. Practicing out of your home. Follow the IRS rules, and you can deduct your expenses. The business experience is priceless and marketable. There are legitimate programs to help those who are facing foreclosure. There are agencies and organizations, NACA, NCLC, PLI, HUD Certified Housing Counselors, legal services programs, etc., that can point you in the right direction. I know it is depressing and you feel hopeless, but it’s not over. You still have options! Take a leap of faith in yourself and remember why you went to law school. It couldn’t have just been about the money or you would have been a surgeon. Get out there, make the calls, network and let people know you are a lawyer, licensed to practice and the clients, who are willing to pay a reasonable fee, will come. As you learn what you NEED to know to save yourself, you can market to others to help them save themselves.

By VP on 2013 05 06, 9:45 pm CDT

Exactly, No. 28 - take a leap!

By B. McLeod on 2013 05 06, 11:58 pm CDT

@28 Unemployed JD - VP is right. Just start taking work. I'm fortunate to have a job with a small firm, but several of my friends have gone the "shingle" route. Some of them have small office spaces rented, and others are working from home. Most of them are doing some sort of work, taking cases on the public defender list and small cases here and there. They're still practicing law, making some money, and moving forward. Of course, for most of them that option is only available because they have a spouse who can handle the bulk of the normal bills while they build a practice.

Even if you take a part time job somewhere to pay the bills, you can still do things like draft wills and document review on contract, or if you have a parttime job at night, you can have flexibility that way. Also look at providing representation in small claims - people who can't pay normal attorney rates may still be able to pay you a flat rate - and you'll get legal experiece while doing it.

The other HUGE advantage to starting to take cases on your own is that it will help your job search because the firms will see that you're in this to practice law, and that you have experience. Also, don't get hung up on needing to work for the "perfect" firm. Pick your applications carefully, and make sure the letters are personal.

Obviously I have not been in your shoes, but for my friends who are - they seem to love what they're doing, and are building flexible practices that revolve around their lives (most of them have kids).

By RecentGrad on 2013 05 08, 6:39 pm CDT

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