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Trends in Law Firm Staffing

May 28th, 2017 / By

Altman Weil has released its annual report on “Law Firms in Transition.” The report, based on a survey of managing partners of law firms with at least 50 lawyers, documents continued change in the way law firms staff their matters.

More than half of these law firms now use contract lawyers (57.1%) or part-time lawyers (52.7%). Almost half (41.8%) employ staff attorneys. Larger firms (those with at least 250 lawyers) are more likely than smaller firms to use these staffing strategies. Indeed, about three quarters of those larger firms use contract lawyers (77.0%), part-time lawyers (71.3%) or staff attorneys (78.2%). The numbers, however, are still significant at firms with 50-249 lawyers–especially for contract lawyers. More than half (50.4%) of the mid-sized firms use those lawyers.

Law firms have adopted these strategies because they increase profitability. Sixty-nine percent of the surveyed leaders indicated that “shifting work to contract/temporary lawyers” has resulted in a “significant improvement” in that metric. Almost half (49.5%) thought that “shifting work from lawyers to paraprofessionals” had the same salutary effect.

Law firms have also started to push the next frontier in staffing client matters: by using artificial intelligence (like IBM’s Watson) for some analyses. More than a third of law firms (36.3%) have started using those tools or “have begun to explore” those opportunities.

These results are not surprising to anyone who has followed law firm trends since the Great Recession. They underline, however, firms’ enthusiasm for these new staffing models.

H/t to TaxProf for noting the availability of Altman Weil’s report.

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LST Reports Updated

May 11th, 2017 / By

As Debby pointed out, the ABA just released the latest employment statistics. Each school’s report is on the ABA website and their own website, but it’s not easy to compare schools in a giant spreadsheet, either with each other or year over year. I just updated the LST Reports with all the new data. These comparisons are easy using our tools.

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2016 Employment Outcomes

May 11th, 2017 / By

The ABA has posted its report on employment outcomes for the Class of 2016, along with two school-by-school spreadsheets. One of the spreadsheets tracks law school funded jobs that require bar passage; the other details other employment outcomes. My initial take-aways are:

  • Nationwide, the size of the graduating class fell 7.15%.
  • That decline allowed schools to register a slight increase in the percentage of graduates employed in the key category of full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar admission. That percentage rose from 59.2% to 61.8%.
  • The number of graduates employed in those job categories, however, fell from 23,687 for the Class of 2015 to 22,930 for the Class of 2016. That decline (3.1%) continues a trend noted last year, although the decline is smaller this year.
  • The number of students taking part-time JD Advantage jobs rose markedly–by 16.3% in the long-term category and 72.8% in the short-term one. The overall numbers are small compared to other job categories, but the jumps are noticeable.
  • The percentage of graduates known to be unemployed and seeking jobs declined from 9.7% to 8.8%. Those figures, however, must be read in connection with an increase in the percentage of graduates for whom employment status was unknown. If we assume that just a third of the latter graduates were unemployed and seeking work (a conservative estimate), then 10.04% of the Class of 2016 was still unemployed and seeking work ten months after graduation.

Overall, the report suggests continued weakness in the entry-level job market for law graduates. The decline in the absolute number of graduates holding full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar admission is worrisome–especially since we take that measure a full 10 months after graduation. Even more troubling is the fact that 10% of the nation’s law graduates are unemployed and seeking work a full ten months after graduation.

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Jobs and Salaries for New Lawyers

April 30th, 2017 / By

What does the job market look like for new lawyers? The ABA will soon release statistics about the Class of 2016, and NALP will add additional information by the end of the summer. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) gives us an advance peak.

Each year, BLS reports job numbers and salaries for a wide range of occupations. This series of reports includes only salaried positions; for the legal profession, the series omits both solo practitioners and equity partners in law firms. Still, since most new graduates seek salaried positions, these numbers offer a useful measure of the profession’s ability to absorb and pay new members.

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A Milestone for Legal Education

December 15th, 2016 / By

For the first time ever, women constitute a majority of JD students at ABA-accredited law schools. 50.32% of JD students studying for fall exams are women.*

It’s a milestone to celebrate–but also one to view with caution.

As Kyle McEntee and I reported last month, female law students remain clustered at the least prestigious law schools. You can find a graphic representation of these data, along with a podcast in which Kyle and I discuss the numbers, here.

After crunching the latest disclosures, there remains a strong (and statistically significant) correlation between a law school’s US News rank and its percentage of female students: On average, the better ranked schools enroll a significantly smaller percentage of women students. The correlation remains when we look at schools’ placement outcomes. Men are significantly more likely than women to attend schools that place a large percentage of their graduates in full-time, long-term jobs requiring a law license. Women are more likely to attend schools with weak employment outcomes.

When we looked at last year’s data, we found a correlation of .381 between a school’s US News rank and the percentage of women it enrolled. This year, the correlation is almost as high, at .357. The story is similar for the relationship between percentage of female students and good job outcomes. Last year’s data showed a correlation of -.520, while the updated data yield an association of -.508. All of these relationships are statistically significant: the odds of them occurring by chance are less than one in a thousand.

Women now outnumber men in law schools, but our pipeline is still broken. Let’s do more to recognize and correct gender bias in the profession. You can start with Law School Transparency’s podcast series on Women In the Law.

* Source: The ABA’s annual data release. These totals include students from Penn State’s two campuses, which seem to have been omitted from the “All Schools” spreadsheet on the ABA site. 55,059 of this year’s students are men, while 55,766 are women.

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Accreditation

July 31st, 2016 / By

Earlier this summer, a federal panel recommended suspending the ABA’s power to accredit new law schools for one year. The transcript for that meeting has now been published, so we can examine in detail what happened. It’s clear that the panel intended its action to “send a signal” to the ABA Council that accredits law schools. All of us in legal education need to hear that signal: It affects the standards we adopt for accrediting law schools, as well as the eligibility of our students to take the bar exam.

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The View from Minnesota: A Profession on Edge

July 25th, 2016 / By

Wood R. Foster, Jr., a Minneapolis lawyer and former president of the Minnesota State Bar Association, has written a striking review of recent changes in the legal profession. Foster spent his career as a commercial litigator with Siegel Brill, a small Minneapolis firm. Relatively few lawyers from that background have written about changes in the legal profession, and Foster does so eloquently.

Foster covers the growing surplus of lawyers, which he dates to 2000; fracturing of the profession; stalled diversity efforts; the high cost of legal education; BigLaw and its equally big shadow; and the impact of technology.

With some irony, Foster quotes a column that he wrote in 2000 after holding a series of focus groups with lawyers. “I have found,” he wrote then, “that lawyers are generally reluctant to visualize the profession’s future.” The future, however, arrived anyway. Today, he reflects, “a good argument can be made that the legal profession has changed more in the last 15 years than it did in the 150 years from 1849 to 1999.”

Foster’s views echo those I hear from many practitioners in their 60s and 70s. While academics continue to debate the existence of change, these lawyers have lived it. Their vantage point makes them particularly sympathetic to the newest generation of lawyers. “There really can be no doubt,” Foster concludes, “that it has been a rough ride for lawyers graduating from law school since 2000. . . . [The facts] add up to an unflattering picture of why so many young lawyers are finding it so hard to get the kind of start in their chosen profession that older lawyers like me were able to take for granted during the last half of the twentieth century.”

Give Foster a read. His featured series of articles absorbs much of this issue of Minnesota’s Bench and Bar journal.

 

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A Conversation with Dave Hoffman

June 27th, 2016 / By

Dave Hoffman has posted a thoughtful piece about the future of legal education, in which he wonders whether legal educators, law graduates, potential students, and others can have a conversation about legal education rather than a rancorous debate. I think many conversations are already occurring offline, but I’d like to create such a discussion here by exploring a few of Dave’s thoughts in what I hope is a conversational manner.

Accreditation

Dave suggests radically decreasing the regulations that law schools face through the accreditation process, with the hope that this would “enable students to cheaply access the right to take the bar.” I’m with him on some of his principles, which I hope will make our conversation productive, but disagree with his conclusion.

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The Seventeen Percent

June 23rd, 2016 / By

In a recent column, Professor Stephen Davidoff Solomon observes that the legal job market “is a world of haves and have-nots.” With BigLaw firms raising entry-level salaries from $160,000 to $180,000, he concludes, “[t]op law graduates are doing better than ever.” Conversely, “it is clear that it is harder out there for the lower-tier law schools and their graduates.”

I agree with Professor Solomon about the divided nature of our profession; that reality has haunted American lawyers for decades. Solomon, however, significantly overstates the percentage of law graduates who fall within his world of “haves” (those whose salaries recently climbed from $160,000 to $180,000).

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Did Firms Raise Salaries High Enough?

June 21st, 2016 / By

Originally published on Above The Law.

nationwide pay raise biglaw associate base salary starting salary increase money bonusDeborah Merritt, a law professor at the Ohio State University, published an informative analysis on her blog yesterday about the new market rate salary for large law firms, which has been extensively covered here on ATL.

To her and virtually every other observer, the increase to $180,000 signals that many large firms are prospering. In part the increase reflects a small but steady increase in associate productivity since 2008, reaching roughly the levels from the last market rate increase in 2007. The following chart is from the 2016 Report on the State of the Legal Market, issued by Georgetown Law’s Center for the Study of the Legal Profession:

2015 Associate Productivity Chart

Associates are continuously more productive by this measure than any other category of worker, although at lower billable rates than partners. Interestingly, the gap in productivity between associates and other groups is significantly greater post-recession.
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Cafe Manager & Co-Moderator
Deborah J. Merritt

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ABA Journal Blawg 100 HonoreeLaw School Cafe is a resource for anyone interested in changes in legal education and the legal profession.

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