2015 Employment: Fixing the Fruit Salad

May 6th, 2016 / By

As promised, I explain here a quirk in the ABA’s employment report for the Class of 2015. That report shows that 62.4% of the 2015 graduates obtained jobs that require bar admission (“lawyering” jobs), while just 59.2% of the graduates secured lawyering jobs that were also full-time and long-term (i.e., expected to last at least one year).

Those percentages are sobering in themselves, but they are even more worrisome when compared to percentages for the Class of 2014. For the latter class, the ABA reports that 64.1% of graduates obtained lawyering jobs, with 59.9% of the graduates landing full-time, long-term jobs in that category. The percentage of graduates securing lawyering jobs, in other words, seems to have declined.

Things are bad, but not quite that bad. Here’s where the data quirk comes in.

The Quirk

For the Class of 2014, the ABA included jobs funded by law schools in its count of lawyering jobs. Funded jobs appeared both in their own line (labelled “Law School Funded Positions”) and in the category matching that job’s employment type and status. If a school funded a graduate to work full-time for a full year as a legal aid lawyer, in other words, that job was counted in the “Law School Funded Positions” line, the “Bar Passage Required” line, and the “Long Term/Full-Time Bar Passage Required” line.

This wasn’t double-counting; it was one way to portray different slices of the data. For the Class of 2015, however, the ABA decided to report the data differently. It reported school-funded jobs in the “Law School Funded Positions” line but not in any other key lines of the scorecard. The same school-funded legal aid position, in other words, appears only once in the 2015 report.

This was a sensible change; it’s a more helpful way to summarize data for readers. The problem lies in mixing the methods. Some of the numbers and percentages that the ABA reports for the Classes of 2014 and 2015 are not directly comparable, although the scorecard suggests that they are. These lines in the report mix pineapples (2014 totals that included school-funded positions) and prunes (2015 totals that exclude those positions).

The ABA offers a small-print acknowledgement of the problem. A line at the bottom of the scorecard reads: “Law School Funded data was deducted from the 2015 graduate Bar Passage Required and JD Advantage totals, but were included in the 2014 Bar Passage Required and JD Advantage graduate totals.”*

That’s useful for legal education geeks who follow these data closely, but the warning won’t help most readers. It would have been better, instead, to recalculate the 2014 figures to make them directly comparable to 2015. I do that below for those who are curious.

Bar Passage Required Jobs

Here is a breakdown of the lawyering jobs secured by the Classes of 2014 and 2015–without including school-funded jobs in either year’s total. (Note that LT=long-term, FT=full-time, ST=short-term, and PT=part-time.)

Class of 2015

Class of 2014

Change in % Grads


% Grads Number

% Grads

Bar Pass Required


62.4% 26,918 61.4%




59.2% 25,417 58.0%




1.2% 587 1.3%




1.3% 638 1.5%




0.7% 276 0.6%



Note that the number of jobs in each category declined between 2014 and 2015. That is a positive trend for short-term and part-time jobs, but it’s a worrisome one for long-term, full-time jobs.

The percentage of graduates employed in long-term, full-time lawyering jobs, however, increased slightly between 2014 and 2015. The same is true for the entire category of lawyering jobs. These percentages did not decline, as the ABA’s scorecard suggests. It’s a minor adjustment in the numbers, but worth keeping straight.

JD Advantage

The same quirk affects the ABA’s reporting of jobs for which the JD is an advantage. In 2014, the ABA included school-funded jobs in those categories; in 2015, it did not. Comparing figures from the two years directly, therefore, gives an erroneous impression. Here is a table that, like the above one, subtracts school-funded jobs from the 2014 figures. The resulting comparisons give a fairer comparison between the two years:


Class of 2015

Class of 2014

Change in %age Point


%age of Total Grads


%age of Total Grads

JD Advantage


13.8% 5,995 13.7% 0.1


4,342 10.9% 4,815 11.0%




1.1% 493 1.1% 0.0


472 1.2% 435 1.0%




0.6% 252 0.6%



Once again, the number of jobs declined in most categories but the percentages employed were quite constant between the two years. The ABA scorecard erroneously suggests that all of these percentages declined.

Does It Matter?

Do these adjustments matter? Not very much. I provide them as a service for readers who want to be able to compare the two years directly–and to avoid confusion about whether the percentage of graduates employed in lawyering jobs has risen or fallen. It has risen, albeit quite modestly, because of declining class sizes. The more noteworthy point is that the absolute number of jobs declined in every employment category. 3,871 graduates were still seeking work ten months after graduation, so there was a reservoir of JDs ready for work. Jobs, however, were not available; the market had shrunk again.

* The ABA apparently splits the difference on the debate over whether the word “data” is plural or singular. Plural in 2014, but singular for 2015.



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