NALP Employment Data

August 2nd, 2018 / By

The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) has just released data about employment outcomes for the Class of 2017. More than two-thirds of graduates (68.8%) found full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar admission. According to NALP’s figures, that’s “higher than the rate measured before the recession.” The boost in employment outcomes, however, rests largely on the decline in JD class sizes. Between 2013 and 2017, the graduating class size fell by more than 25%.

Employment outcomes thus offer a mixed picture. On the one hand, as NALP’s Executive Director James Leipold writes, “we are closer than at any time since the recession to having the number of law school graduates more closely match the number and kind of jobs available.” Graduates are also obtaining more of the lawyering jobs they prefer; as Leipold notes, the percentage of graduates taking JD Advantage jobs has fallen, “suggest[ing] that despite the growth of new JD Advantage opportunities in areas like compliance, many law graduates prefer bar passage required jobs if they can be found.”

On the other hand, as Leipold also stresses, these positive employment outcomes rest on “a smaller [graduating] class and not more jobs.” Indeed, the Class of 2017 “secured fewer private practice jobs than any class since 1996.” The “unemployment rate ten months after graduation still remains much higher than it should be” and “the actual number of jobs obtained was flat or went down in virtually every sector.”

What About Salaries?

Both the mean and median for reported salaries rose between the Class of 2016 and Class of 2017: The mean rose from $90,305 to $95,320, while the median increased from $65,000 to $70,000. Once again, however, key caveats accompany that good news.

First, NALP has long warned that these figures skew high because graduates are more likely to report high salaries than low ones. The means and medians for all salaries–rather than just reported ones–undoubtedly are lower.

Second, although the Class of 2017 reported a higher median salary ($70,000) than recent classes, that figure still lags behind the median of $72,000 reported in 2008 and 2009. After controlling for inflation, the gap is significantly greater: If the average 2017 graduate earned as much as one from 2008 in inflation-adjusted dollars, she would have a salary of $83,618 today. The actual median of $70,000 is 16.3% lower.

But Aren’t Big Firms Hiring Again?

Large law firms (those with more than 500 lawyers) hired more new lawyers in 2017 than in 2016: graduates reported 370 more jobs in these firms than in the previous year. That continues a multi-year trend of expansion after significant recession-era cutbacks. Leipold, however, warns that this “runup in large law firm hiring has likely plateaued.” Other NALP data “show that large law firms made fewer offers for summer associate spots and have brought in slightly smaller summer classes during the last two recruiting cycles.” BigLaw hiring, in other words, is unlikely to fuel further employment gains for the Classes of 2018 or 2019.

The Bottom Line

NALP will release more detailed data in its October Jobs & JDs report. This overview, however, underscores a point I made earlier this week: An increase in law school applicants does not yield an increase in jobs. If schools increase entering class sizes, they should plan now for how to expand employment opportunities for those students.


  • Guest

    My observation is that the some of the expanded employment opportunities for law graduates will be in rapidly growing areas where people need a separate set of skills from law. For example, Columbia University has a great computer science department with any number of jobs available afterwards. They also have a great program in public health.

    There are two levels of training.

    One is for law students so they are not blindsided by the severe lawyer oversupply and have a backup career where they have skills. The law schools, especially outside the top law schools with very high placement rates, should offer this type of backstop training, even if the courses are not in the law school, so they are graduating people with marketable skills. It is going to be a matter of taking fewer law courses and a good amount of something else.

    A second level of training is for experienced lawyers who simply cannot find jobs, Here you need both short-term, cost effective training and the willingness of employers to take on older employees at junior levels, which many employers will not do. The law schools should try to facilitate a transition here for their graduates.

    The supply/ demand imbalance for lawyers is a serious matter, and the ABA should be addressing it with the goal that people who go to law school can get a full-time permanent job doing something that requires at least a bachelors degree, if they want to.

    Putting one’s head in the sand about the failure to place a substantial portion of a law school class year after year and ignoring the pleas of desperate, unemployed graduates is not the way to go. Law graduates need the university to provide a bridge to a job.

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