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

Posted May 2, 2013 5:34 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Employment statistics on jobs held by law grads nine months after graduation don’t tell the whole story, according to an associate dean and professor at Widener Law School.

D. Benjamin Barros, associate dean for faculty research and development at Widener, studied the longer-term employment picture for Widener graduates at its Harrisburg, Pa., campus from the classes of 2010 and 2011, according to his post at the Faculty Lounge. His conclusion: “It is highly likely that more recent graduates throughout the country are getting law jobs than the conventional wisdom assumes.”

Barros and his researchers looked at publicly available information for 2010 and 2011 Widener/Harrisburg law grads and, when nothing could be found, they tried contacting them. Barros was able to find solid data on all but about 8 percent of the grads, who were treated as unemployed in the study.

The results: For the class of 2010, the percentage with jobs requiring bar passage was at 47.5 percent nine months after graduation and is currently at 80.4 percent. For the class of 2011, the percentage with jobs requiring bar passage was at 46.8 percent nine months after graduation and is currently at 74.1 percent. For the combined classes, the percentage currently holding jobs requiring bar passage is 78.1 percent; when solos and temporary workers are excluded, the percentage is 70 percent.

Nine-month jobs numbers can be helpful as a snapshot of employment, Barros says. “It is not reasonable, however, to treat the nine-month numbers as the final word on employment for a particular class of graduates.” The timing of the bar exam results in job delays for some grads, as does failing the exam on the first try, he says. Also, job searches likely take longer in a bad economy, he says.

“The idea that a huge percentage of law school graduates are not getting jobs as lawyers comes up in places as varied as scamblogs to the editorial pages of the New York Times,” Barros says. “Nine-month data, however, simply does not tell the whole story of the employment outcomes for any particular graduating class.”

Barros says he and his friends graduated from college in a bad job market. While they had problems landing jobs at first, eventually they found employment. The experience “reinforces for me that it is a mistake to be unduly fixated on initial job outcomes in evaluating any higher educational program,” Barros writes.

Barros adds that he is not arguing that the current jobs picture is great, nor is he defending the status quo in legal education. "I worry about many facets of legal education, not least the student debt problems caused by ever-increasing tuition," he says.

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