Schizophrenic statistics for law schools, new-lawyer hiring

By Brandon Gee
The Daily Record Newswire

PROVIDENCE, RI - Data-driven lawyers should be glad they're not deciding whether to go to law school - or running one - right now. The recent numbers on law student enrollment and graduate employment are seemingly schizophrenic and would pose a challenge for anyone who uses stats to make informed decisions.

First, the good news: There has been two years of growth in the number of jobs obtained by law school graduates, according to the National Association for Law Placement, with about 38,000 members of the class of 2013 employed nine months after graduation.

According to the American Bar Association, 57 percent of class of 2013 law grads are in long-term, full-time jobs that require bar passage, up from 56.2 percent for the class of 2012.

The number of grads landing jobs for which a law degree is an advantage or requirement, but for which bar passage isn't required, also increased slightly from 12.9 percent to 13.6 percent, according to the ABA.

The rebound looks particularly good at big firms, where the prevailing starting salary is $160,000. NALP's data shows 20.6 percent of 2013 graduates landing a job at a firm with more than 500 lawyers. That's up from just 16.2 percent for the class of 2011.

Median starting salaries are up 2 percent across the board for 2013 grads, to $62,467, NALP reports, and those who got jobs at law firms saw a 6 percent jump in the median starting salary, to $95,000.

All this information might seem likely to dislodge some law school fence-sitters, but that isn't happening.

Just 39,675 full- and part-time students began law school in the fall of 2013, an 11 percent drop from fall 2012 and a 24 percent plunge from a historic high of 52,488 in the fall of 2010, according to the ABA.

The pipeline doesn't look to be improving. As of July 4, the number of law school applications was down 8.6 percent from 2013, according to the Law School Admission Council.

So what gives? It appears prospective students may be paying attention to other employment statistics that paint a less rosy picture of the legal job market. While the number of jobs obtained by grads is on a two-year upswing, it hasn't been large enough to accommodate the record number of students who began law school during the recession. The entering class of 2010, for example, produced a whopping graduating class of nearly 47,000. Despite the increase in jobs obtained by this class, its overall employment rate is just 84.5 percent. The employment rate for law grads hasn't been that low since the aftermath of the 1990-1991 recession, NALP reports.

A law degree also isn't nearly as lucrative as it used to be, despite recent gains. And while the upswing in hiring at big firms may provide a boon for the best students and most prestigious schools, the vast majority of law graduates confront a different reality.

While the $95,000 median starting salary at law firms represents a 6 percent increase over 2012, it is a far cry from the $130,000 median starting salary the class of 2009 earned at firms.

Published: Tue, Sep 09, 2014

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