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.



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