Median salaries reach all-time high for class of 2020 law grads, while employment rate drops slightly

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The employment rate for law graduates in the class of 2020 decreased by nearly two percentage points from the prior year, but the news wasn’t all bad, according to figures released Thursday.

The national median salary for the class of 2020 reached an all-time high of $75,000, up 3.4% from the median for the class of 2019, the National Association for Law Placement reported. The national median law firm salary for the class of 2020 was $130,000.

A press release is here; the report is here, and a chart is here. A salary distribution curve is here.

There are two peaks in a graph of the salary distribution for full-time jobs of more than a year for the class of 2020. One is for salaries of $45,000 to $75,000, which accounted for nearly half of reported salaries. The other peak is for salaries of $190,000, which accounted for 21.3% of reported salaries.

The salary numbers were collected before many BigLaw firms raised starting salaries to $200,000.

On the negative side, the employment rate decreased for the class of 2020, both for jobs in which bar passage is required or anticipated and for all jobs for which employment status was known.

The percentage taking bar-passage jobs was 74.6%, a decrease of 1.6 percentage points from the prior year. The percentage employed in all jobs was 88.4%, a decrease of nearly two percentage points.

Among class of 2020 graduates who were employed, 56.8% obtained a job in private practice. That’s an increase of 1.6 percentage points over the previous year and the highest percentage since 2003.

The largest law firms contributed to the increase, adding more than 2,200 jobs over the past nine years.

James Leipold, executive director of the NALP, called the findings “remarkably strong” in the press release and report commentary. “To the extent that the employment profile is somewhat weaker than that of the previous class, it is not likely to mark the beginning of a downward trend in the numbers, but instead is likely to be a pandemic-related blip,” he said. “There is reason to be cautiously optimistic for the employment outcomes for the class of 2021. …

“In fact, the only real and foreseeable risk factor for the employment picture for law school graduates is the threat of rising graduating class size. While the most recent enrollment numbers will not be available until fall, every indication is that the incoming class of 2024 is considerably larger than the seven classes that have proceeded it. …

“That is potentially a self-inflicted wound for the legal academy as the job market for law school graduates as it exists today cannot likely support healthy employment outcomes for an entering class above 40,000.”

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