Employment Honor Roll: 93.6% land jobs after 2019 graduation

By Katie Thisdell

Congratulations, Class of 2019. While the employment market had been steadily improving the last ten years, it hit its high-water mark with the Class of 2019. 

More graduates landed jobs within 10 months of graduation – 93.6% — than students who passed the bar exam — only 79.6%. Both were highs since the American Bar Association (ABA) began tracking such data in 2014. 

That was unheard of in previous years, and was buttressed by the fact that 19.9% found jobs that did not require bar exam passage. 

“With this number now so close to 100%, this might suggest that some full-time, long-term [Bar Pass Required] positions have been going unfilled until some of the graduates who fail the July bar exam each year pass the February bar exam the following year,” wrote Jerry Organ, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota who watches employment numbers closely.

However, all of the excitement related to these numbers came with one big, looming shadow — COVID -19. 

The latest data was based on employment 10 months after graduation, which happened to be mid-March 2020. That was right when the coronavirus pandemic was starting to rear its ugly head, and stay-at-home orders were issued. The economic disruptions that followed are hardly settled and are expected to negatively impact the Class of 2020.

“While these are very encouraging numbers, they may already be irrelevant,” Organ wrote. “These data do not capture any of the widespread economic disruption associated with the response to COVID-19, which has resulted in belt-tightening, salary reductions and layoffs at law firms around the country. Indeed, some of the graduates of the Class of 2019 who were reported as employed on March 15, 2020, may already have lost their jobs. Thus, these results for the Class of 2019 may stand as the high-water mark for employment outcomes for law school graduates for at least a few years.”

Most agree that employment will likely take a big hit for the Class of 2020.

“This year it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens,” said Greg Anderson, assistant dean and director of Career Opportunities and Professional Development at Northern Illinois University College of Law. “We’ll just have to wait and see.” 

With such uncertainty, many feel it is more important than ever to choose a law school that excels when it comes to placing graduates in good jobs. 

There will always be some schools that practically guarantee you’ll walk away with a job. For the Class of 2019 for instance, the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School in Philadelphia posted the highest employment rate at 99.2%.

Other top schools were the University of Chicago Law School, Harvard Law School and University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville. When modified for employment quality, Columbia Law School in New York ranked No. 1.

But all of these schools start with the top 1% of candidates, based on GPA and LSAT scores. So, in effect, most are just fulfilling what is expected. 

What’s more insightful is to look at law schools that don’t attract the top 1% of law students, but still place students in good jobs. At these schools, graduates get hired at a pace that exceeds predicted rates. How do they do it? Do these schools have a magic formula to help their students win over employers? 

We used linear regression to find the algebraic equation that best predicted a law school’s employment rate based on its students’ average LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs. 

That’s right. We used serious math: Students’ incoming LSAT scores accounted for about 75% of the difference between law schools in terms of eventual student employment, leaving 25% to be explained by other aspects. And students’ incoming undergraduate GPAs accounted for about 47% of that difference, leaving about 53% unaccounted. By comparing a school’s actual employment rate with the rate predicted by LSATs or GPAs alone, we can see how a school fares in comparison to an average law school with similar incoming-student scores.

For this analysis, we used a weighted employment rate that gives more weight to full-time, bar-passage required jobs, and less weight to part-time and nonlegal jobs. 

Six law schools managed to rate at least 10 percentage points higher than the GPA and LSAT profiels would have predicted. Another, 15 schools (including the three in Puerto Rico) came in at least 10 percentage points lower than expected.

So what’s the secret for the ones that shined? A combination of factors drive their students’ and their schools’ success, career staff told us. This includes everything from one-on-one meetings and required externships, to frequent networking opportunities and more engagement on job platforms.

Editor's note: this is the first story in a four-part series on post graduate employment. Check back next week to read about the top performers.
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