Best legal job markets for new grads

Where are the legal jobs? While New York and California boast the largest number of entry-level legal job openings, there is also stiff competition for those jobs.

California law schools graduated 5,064 students in 2013, which outnumbered the 4,098 jobs taken in the state. That led to some dismal placement numbers for schools. In fact, Southern California placed last among 20 regions, with only 58 percent of graduates from the region’s 13 schools landing jobs. Northern California placed 15th with a 66 percent placement rate.

But there are jobs to be had out West. In fact, the Mountain region ranks as the best legal job market for entry-level graduates, thanks to strong demand in Utah, Colorado and Nevada. The National Jurist analyzed data from NALP's Jobs & JDs Class of 2013 report, and employment data from the American Bar Association, to determine which job markets have the most job opportunities per competition. To do so it looked at ratio of jobs to graduates, school placement rates, and the number of job seekers in a  region. It divided the country into 20 regions. While New York firms employ far more law graduates than employers in any other region, there is also stiff competition for those jobs. Still, New York placed fourth in the analysis. Texas placed second, followed by Georgia at No. 3. Illinois placed fifth. 

The National Jurist calculated weighted employment rates based on the ABA's official employment statistics available for the class of 2013, weighing full-time, long-term bar-passage required jobs as 100 percent and full-time, long-term JD- preferred jobs as 70 percent. 

Georgia ranks first for school placement with a weighted employment rate of 78.8 percent. The East South Central region, which includes Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi ranked second with 77.8 percent. 

“There’s this hype that law graduates are going to work retail jobs, but the reality is they’re finding jobs where bar passage is required,” said Estelle Winsett, assistant dean for career services at The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. “The majority of our graduates are going to work at law firms.”

Tennessee law schools graduated 489 students and the state reported 415 job placements. The University of Memphis reported an overall employment rate of 84.4 percent for the class of 2013, nine months after graduation. Of all employed University of Memphis 2013 graduates, 56 percent took positions at law firms.

“There are many opportunities in Memphis, particularly in small to medium-sized firms,” she said. “That’s where the majority of our graduates are employed, and it’s been that way for several years.”

Winsett said the majority of her graduates take positions in small to mid-size law firms due to the region’s legal landscape.

“Memphis doesn’t have a large number of large firms. That’s not our focus,” she said. “[Job opportunities in Memphis] have always been heavy in the small to medium-sized firms, which I think is really good for graduates because they’re going to get hands-on experience very early on. It affords a lot of opportunities for graduates to get in there and really start practicing ”

Winsett said the law school has ramped up career services during the past few years, placing an emphasis on strategic thinking.

“Being strategic is really important,” she said. “If you’ve done your research on the employer you want to work for, taken electives in that area, completed an externship and packaged your application with a detailed cover letter, that will be much more persuasive than just applying to any job. We focus on having students tighten up their job search so they really understand what they’re getting into.”

Weighted employment rates in the Tennessee/Kentucky region have steadily increased during the years, with 77 percent for the class of 2012 and 76 percent for the class of 2011. 

Georgia law schools, meanwhile, graduated 1,105 students and the state reported 1,073 jobs taken. 

Other regions with the highest placement rates include Illinois, and the Mountain region. Colorado, part of the Mountain region, reported the third best graduates-to-jobs ratio, after New Mexico and Nevada. The two law schools in that state graduated 440 students and the state reported 615 jobs taken. 

Other regions with low weighted placement rates include Northern Florida, New England and Ohio/Michigan/Indiana. The weighted employment rate for Michigan law schools was 66 percent. The five Michigan schools graduated 2,150 students and the state reported only 942 entry-level jobs within nine months of graduation. That was the third worst graduates-to-jobs ratio in the U.S., following Delaware and Vermont, states with only one law school. 

A complete list of the 20 regions, ranked in order, will appear in the February issue of The National Jurist.