Last month, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) released information about the overall employment rate for the class of 2011 — information that seemed dismal, at best. The American Bar Association then followed up with its own employment data, and it was “just as dire” as everyone expected, if not worse.

We know that the overall employment rate for the class of 2011 is lower than it’s been in 17 years. But even members of the class of 2011 who managed to secure employment have been screwed. Median starting salaries for new law school graduates have dropped by 35% over the past two years.

Since prospective law students are not great with facts and numbers, NALP was kind enough to put together some pretty pictures to help people understand….

Here’s a figure representing how salaries have dropped over the past few years:

That looks pretty bad. To emphasize the point, let’s look at THE MOST IMPORTANT CHART for prospective lawyers: the bi-modal salary distribution curve. This chart shows that the median and mean salary statistics severely overstate the likely salary for law school graduates. Instead of getting the mean, this chart shows that a lucky few students will spike a Biglaw salary around $160K, while the vast majority of law students will end up making significantly less than the median or mean.

In contrast, look how much better this bi-modal distribution looked for the class of 2007:

And now some words from NALP director Jim Leipold:

“Obviously these statistics paint a pretty dismal picture,” Leipold offered when asked about the significance of some of these changes. “In many ways the Class of 2011 bore the worst brunt of the impact of the recession on the entry-level legal job market, particularly in the large firm market. Remember that members of this class would have gone through on-campus interviewing during the worst of the recession and they would have been summer associates during the summer that the highest number of law firms reported canceling their summer programs. Still, it is startling to see that only 49.5% of employed graduates from the class found jobs in private practice and less than 57% of graduates for whom employment status was known were employed in a full-time job requiring bar passage that will last for more than one year. That represents a dramatic change in the entry-level market. It is also significant that an increasing number of graduates are establishing themselves as solo practitioners right out of law school. It may be that going forward, entrepreneurial skills assume much more importance for law school graduates as solo practice becomes the norm for a larger percentage of law school graduates,” Leipold concluded.

The class of 2011 has really staked its claim to being the most screwed class. But early reports from the class of 2012 don’t suggest that things are getting a lot better. And we know that 2Ls returning to campus in the class of 2014 are simply praying that fall recruiting goes better for them than the people in the classes before them.

Are you paying attention to these numbers, parents of prospective law students? If you understand these charts, then you need to understand that sending your kids to law school is like buying them a lottery ticket — a very expensive lottery ticket.

Median Private Practice Starting Salaries for the Class of 2011 Plunge as Private Practice Jobs Continue to Erode [NALP]
Median Starting Pay for Associates Is No Longer in the Six Figures; Figure Drops 35% in Two Years
[ABA Journal]

Earlier: How Did the Class of 2011 Fare in the Legal Job Market?
ABA Employment Stats Are Just As Dire As We Expected


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