Analyses of the NALP Employment Report and Salary Survey for the Class of 2009 reveal an overall employment rate of 88.3% of graduates for whom employment status was known, a rate that has decreased for two years in a row, decreasing 3.6 percentage points from the recent historical high of 91.9% for the Class of 2007. The employment figure for the Class of 2009 also marks the lowest employment rate since the mid-1990s.
“There are dozens of reasons why the employment report for the Class of 2009 will be different than those that preceded it, and dozens of reasons why the data that has been gathered will require special explanation and analysis to make sense of it,” said NALP Executive Director James Leipold in commentary accompanying the Selected Findings. He noted that while the employment rate of 88.3% may seem stronger than expected, when the statistic is teased apart, it begins to reveal some of the fundamental weaknesses in the job market faced by this class.
Please, prospective law students, do not look at the 88% figure and start wetting yourself. There are a number of reasons to explain why employment statistics look as basically decent as they do…
The WSJ Law Blog points out that there is an inherent softness in these numbers (which are already the lowest NALP has recorded since the 1990s):
And the numbers get uglier once you unpack them, according to NALP. Nearly 25% of all the jobs reported were temporary. Also, a full 2% of the jobs reported were fellowships, grant programs and other opportunities provided by the graduates’ law schools.
Remember, at the NALP conference in April, Leipold produced a slide showing all the ridiculous things law schools are doing to make it look like more people are “employed,” or to generally try to mitigate the effects of the recession:
Law School Responses to Recession: What programs did law schools implement as a result of the economic downturn?
1. Created or provided on-campus or post-graduate jobs: 42%
2. Increased the number of public interest fellowships: 31%
3. Provided financial assistance for bar exam related expenses: 12%
4. Extended access to student health benefits for recent grads: 12%
5. Expanded LRAP (loan repayment assistance) eligibility/increased LRAP benefits: 9%
6. Provided emergency loans otherwise not available: 5%
Today’s NALP report discusses these soft jobs in this way:
Law schools created a variety of employment opportunities for their graduates, and not all of them were on-campus or can be counted in the academic category (though many of the on-campus jobs are both part-time and temporary). Through a variety of bridge programs, fellowships, and grant programs for public interest work, in addition to true on-campus jobs, many schools have “jobs programs” of some sort for new graduates, and many of them predate the recession. For the Class of 2009, it is estimated that these programs provided over 800 jobs, accounting for a full 2 percentage points in the employment rate. At the high end, these jobs programs can account for up to 50 jobs on a single campus.
These kind of “jobs” can account for 50 jobs on one campus? That is depressing. And blatantly misleading on the part of the schools. But the NALP report doesn’t highlight which schools are most egregiously misleading prospective students about their employment prospects.
In April, when I specifically asked Leipold why NALP was counting all these soft jobs as “employed nine months after graduation,” he responded candidly:
“If we said to law schools you have to report a significant percentage of your graduates as ‘unemployed,’ they wouldn’t do it.”
So NALP can’t do it, and U.S. News can’t or won’t force schools to accurately report their employment figures either. The takeaway is that individual students have to put in the time and research to figure out just how inflated the employment figures are at the law schools they are interested in.
Today’s NALP numbers show that law schools haven’t done a very good job mitigating the effects of the recession. Instead, schools have done their best to mask the effects of the recession from public view. And they haven’t done a very good job at that either.