More law grads land jobs as market slowly rebounds

The legal job market improved for a third straight year, with 57 percent of the class of 2013 employed in long-term, full-time positions that require bar passage within 9 months of graduation. That is up from 56.2 percent for the class of 2012 and 54.9 percent for the class of 2011, according to data released by the American Bar Association.

While the improvement is modest, the number of graduates has also increased the past two years. The class of 2013 is the largest in the history of legal education, with 46,776 matriculants. Next year’s class is almost 4,000 students smaller, meaning that even if the number of long-term, full-time positions remains flat, employment will improve to 62 percent. The number would improve to 68 percent for the Class of 2015 and 74 percent for the Class of 2016, based on smaller class sizes. The previous high for full-time, long-term positions, where bar passage is required, was 72.3 percent in 2005.

An additional 10.1 percent of the class of 2013 secured long-term, full-time employment in positions where the J.D. is preferred. That is up from 9.5 percent in 2012 and 8.1 percent in 2013. 

Law school graduates saw greater opportunities among every employer type, except for public interest and education. That shows a shift away from lower-paying positons and school-funded jobs, to higher paying jobs at law firms. 

“At mega firms, things are a little bit better than they were,” said Kyle McEntee, Executive Director of Law School Transparency. “They’re not anywhere near where they were 10 years ago, but its slight improvement.”

The data shows that nearly 13 percent of graduates were employed at firms consisting of at least 101 attorneys. This is an increase by 0.7 percent from last year. However, despite the slight increase, graduates from 25 schools account for more than 60 percent of these jobs.

While the number of unemployed graduates inched up by .5 percent, underemployment decreased from 12.5 percent for 2012 graduates to 11.4 percent for the Class of 2013, further signs that graduates are shifting from less desireable jobs to better legal positons. A graduate counts as underemployed when he or she is in a non-professional job or employed in a short-term or part-time job.

McEntee said, however, that 36 law schools still reported underemployment and unemployment combined to be greater than 40 percent.

“Prospective students need to carefully assess what’s going on with the job market, what’s it going to cost me, [and] how can I get a better deal through negotiation,” he said.