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'After the JD' study shows many leave law practice

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Photo of Ronit Dinovitzer by Wayne Slezak

A third-wave survey of lawyers who passed the bar in 2000 has found a decline in the percentage of lawyers practicing law and major differences in pay based on gender, law school ranking and grades.

Twenty-four percent of the surveyed lawyers were not practicing law in 2012, compared to about 9 percent who weren’t practicing in 2003, according to preliminary survey findings. The results are from the After the JD study, which tracked a national sample of lawyers who passed the bar in 2000 with surveys in three waves—in 2003, 2007 and 2012. More than 3,000 people responded to the third survey.

The findings were presented at a research seminar sponsored by the fellows of the American Bar Foundation at the ABA Midyear Meeting. “These are the golden age graduates,” said ABF faculty fellow Ronit Dinovitzer after the presentation, “and even among the golden age graduates, 24 percent are not practicing law.”

The careers with the highest percentage of nonpracticing lawyers were in the nonprofit and education sector, where about 75 percent weren’t practicing, and the federal government, where nearly 26 percent were nonpracticing. Nonpracticing careers included law professors, real estate agents and investment bankers, Dinovitzer said.

Women working full time earned 80 percent of the pay reported by their male counterparts. The difference was most pronounced among law grads working in business and not practicing law; women working full time in that sector earned 67 percent of the pay of their male counterparts.

Similarly, the percentage of female respondents working in law firms in 2012 as partners was 52.3 percent, compared to 68.8 percent for men. Fifty-three percent of those women were equity partners, compared to 65.5 percent for men.


Graduates of the top 10 law schools who worked full time earned median pay of $73,500 more per year than graduates of Tier 4 schools. And among Tier 3 graduates, those with the highest grade point averages had median pay that was $121,500 more than those with the lowest grades.

Among other preliminary findings, when asked to rate their satisfaction with deciding to become a lawyer on a 1-to-5 scale, the average was 3.92. Asked whether they’d go to law school if they had it to do over again using a 1-to-7 scale, the average was 4.91.

Panelist Daniel Rodriguez, law dean of Northwestern University, said the study highlights the need for schools to break down silos between law, business and other programs to prepare students for careers outside of traditional law practice.

Entry-level jobs have declined since the survey, Rodriguez said, raising questions about the value of law schools for those who don’t practice law. The value proposition may well depend on the level of educational debt, he said. He noted that the lawyers in the After the JD study likely had lower debt than later grads.

The survey is funded by the ABF, NALP and the National Science Foundation.

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “After the JD Shows Many Leave Law Practice.”

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