Legal Education

Jobs for Class of ’18 overall see ‘modest increase’ but with fewer graduates than last year

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There was a slight uptick in law firm, government and public interest jobs for the Class of 2018, according to employment outcomes released Monday by the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

For law students graduating in 2018, 78.6% had full-time, long-term, bar-passage-required or JD-advantage jobs within about 10 months after graduation, according to a news release. Comparably, 75.3% of the Class of 2017 reported similar positions last year, but the Class of 2018 had 583 fewer members, according to an online table posted by the legal ed section. That, coupled with a “modest increase” in jobs, led to the employment increase, according to the release.

“The results show a continued uptick in the employment picture for newly minted lawyers. This is an encouraging trend although gradual. As fewer lawyers graduate, more on a percentage basis are finding jobs. In short, the market is working as we would expect,” says Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, in a statement.

The table breaks down jobs by employer category. While there was a 0.7% percentage point increase in the percentage of graduates employed at law firms for the Class of 2018 compared to the previous year, the number of graduates employed at firms decreased from 16,021 in 2017 to 15,995 in 2018. Also, there were 1,687 reported graduates employed in public interest law in 2018, compared to 1,625 for the Class of 2017. In other sectors, there was a 0.7 percentage point decrease in business and industry positions and a 0.1 percentage point increase in government work.

When employment outcomes were released for the Class of 2017 last year, the data showed percentage decreases in entry-level hiring at law firms, the government, academia and public interest.

“That’s more reasonable than it was five years ago, but it’s not establishing law school as a winning proposition,” says Deborah Jones Merritt, a professor at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

Among law schools with more than 90% of their 2018 graduates in long-term, full-time, bar-passage-required positions are Columbia University, with 93.5%; the University of Virginia, with 92.6%; and the University of Chicago, with 91.3%.

Law schools that are not on probation or operating under a teach-out agreement, with less than 40% of their 2018 graduates in long-term, full-time jobs that require bar passage include Golden Gate University, with 32.5%; Western New England University, with 33.8%; and the University of the District of Columbia, with 38.8%.

The number of law school graduates has declined in each of the last few years. However, in 2018, law school attendance increased, a phenomenon known as the “Trump bump,” in reference to the idea that more people have become interested in becoming lawyers ever since Donald Trump was elected as the U.S. president.

“The really interesting question is what happens when the number of law school graduates starts to increase, which it will three years from now, by about 3%,” says Bernard A. Burk, a former assistant professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law and an ex-litigation partner at Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin who now blogs at the Faculty Lounge.

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