It’s Just Ohio

April 27th, 2015 / By

Today’s NY Times has an article that mentions my recent study of employment outcomes for the Class of 2010. Using official bar records, employer web sites, LinkedIn, and other internet sources, I tracked current employment outcomes for the 1,214 new lawyers who passed the Ohio bar in 2010. I found job information for 93.7% of the population.

The findings, as I explain in the paper, suggest that the Class of 2010 continues to face challenges in the job market–even almost five years after graduation. Although all members of the group I studied group were admitted to the bar, only three quarters hold a job that requires a law license. One-tenth of these recent graduates have gone into solo practice. The percentage working in law firms is just 40.4%–and a third of those lawyers work in firms with just 1-4 others.

These and other findings, of course, represent outcomes for newly admitted lawyers licensed in Ohio. Brian Galle at Prawfsblawg has questioned whether Ohio’s results represent outcomes in other parts of the nation. It’s a question that others undoubtedly will raise, so I offer some thoughts on that here.

Which Legal Profession?

When legal educators talk about the legal profession, discussion drifts toward BigLaw. This seems to happen even when we don’t realize it. Professor Galle, for example, states in a follow-up comment to his post that “the U.S. law market is concentrated in a few states.” That may be true for some types of corporate practice, but it’s not true for all of the other types of law that attorneys pursue.

Small and medium-sized businesses account for more than 99% of all business employers in the United States. These businesses, which populate every state, generate legal needs of all kinds: incorporation and partnership agreements, contracts with suppliers, tax disputes, employment suits, real estate deals, regulatory compliance, and tort claims. These clients do not hire BigLaw firms for their work.

Individuals in every state, meanwhile, need lawyers to handle divorces, criminal charges, real estate transactions, employment claims, immigration concerns, trusts and estates, civil lawsuits, and government disputes. Speaking of the latter, many more lawyers work for state and local governments than for the federal government. Whether you want to be a prosecutor, public defender, or agency lawyer, you’re more likely to work for a state, town, or county than for the feds.

If we want to think about employment outcomes for law graduates, we have to evaluate all parts of the legal profession–not just the BigLaw firms or government offices located inside the beltway. There’s a lot of law all over this land.

Why Look at a Single State?

If we agree that the legal profession is quite diverse, then how can we explore employment outcomes in that profession? National studies, like the After the JD project, offer one option. Averages taken across a diverse group, however, can offer a misleading picture. As statisticians have noted wryly, the average person has one testicle and one ovary.

Studying a specific city or state, on the other hand, imposes different limits. No two cites or states look exactly the same. Geographically targeted studies, however, can be quite informative. Two of the leading studies of our profession, Chicago Lawyers and its sequel Urban Lawyers, both focus exclusively on lawyers working within Chicago’s city limits.

I concluded that, given existing data on the legal profession (which is both fragmented and sparse), it would be most illuminating to develop a study of recent graduates licensed to practice in a large, but not dominant, legal market. In a private comment, one of my readers characterized Ohio as a “second tier legal market,” and I accept that label. That’s exactly what I was looking for: a market that would reflect the experiences of a wide range of law graduates, rather than those of an elite minority.

But Why Ohio?

In the paper, I offer considerable detail about why Ohio serves my purpose as a state that represents outcomes for a large band of new lawyers. Ohio is relatively large: it ranks ninth among all states for both the size of its licensed bar and the number of jobs provided recent law graduates. Two Ohio cities (Columbus and Cleveland) rank among the top 20 cities providing jobs to those graduates.

And yes, Ohio does have BigLaw firms: Jones Day, Baker & Hostetler, Squite Patton Boggs, and several others. It also has a client base that generates BigLaw issues: the three just-mentioned firms originated in Ohio and then spread globally.

NALP‘s employment reports on 9-month outcomes for the Class of 2010 suggest that Ohio’s legal market includes a representative mix of employers for entry-level lawyers. Other large states skew strongly toward private practice jobs (e.g., New York and California) or government positions (Washington DC). When I examined 9-month employment patterns for the ten largest states, only Ohio and Pennsylvania offered a representative mix.

Ohio, finally, has a fairly robust economy. In 2010, the state’s overall unemployment rate was worse than the national average but better than several states (California, Florida, and Illinois) that employ more lawyers. Equally important for measuring current employment outcomes, Ohio benefited from a strong recovery. In 2014, Ohio’s overall unemployment rate beat the national average and was considerably better than in legal powerhouse states like New York, California, Illinois, Florida, and Washington, D.C. See p. 13 of the paper.

Summing Up

No single study can capture a picture of employment outcomes that is true for all members of the Class of 2010–or of any other recent class. That’s partly because we have so few baseline studies to build on, and partly because the outcomes are so diverse. My study is incomplete in several ways. In addition to the geographic focus, I included only law graduates who were successfully admitted to the bar. The study tells us relatively little about careers of law school graduates who never take or pass the bar. That group, which comprises about 12% of all graduates (see page 40), would have different job outcomes than the ones I traced.

But we have to start somewhere. I chose to examine new lawyers in a state that, I believe, represents the type of employment outcomes achieved by a very large number of law graduates nationwide. As legal educators, we need to focus more on those outcomes–not just on the salaries and lifestyle at the largest law firms.

In making this start, I also developed a method that is easy to replicate. Ohio happens to have a particularly user-friendly bar directory, but most states have searchable directories online. Graduates, bar licensees, and other populations are easy to track through those directories, employer websites, LinkedIn, and other sources. If you’d like to study a different set of lawyers, feel free to contact me. I’d be happy to share all of my tips, including the best ways to track graduates who change their names. (Ok, I’ll offer that one without even requiring an email. If the state bar directory doesn’t allow searching by first and middle names, type the lawyer’s name plus the word “wedding” into google. You’ll most likely obtain a wedding announcement, gift registry site, or other leads.)


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