American Bar Association / ABA, Biglaw, Job Searches, Law Schools, Unemployment

ABA Job Numbers Are Out — Market Still Sucks

This probably isn’t a surprise, but the market still sucks for newly minted lawyers. The ABA has published the employment data it gathered from affiliated law schools, and the best way to spin this is as a “modest uptick.”

So if you’re a 0L super psyched about going to a subpar law school, this is cold, hard data that should terrify you. Terrify you even more than the indebtedness stats. Except you’re not going to be deterred, because you think you’re the exception. Like the high school girl convinced that Jimmy isn’t going to cheat on her like he did his last five girlfriends. Good luck, kid.

For the rest of us, let’s take the temperature of the legal market while we await the law school press releases telling us it’s not so bad.

And, hey, it looks like there may be one tiny ray of hope in these numbers. Don’t worry, I did say “tiny”…

Let’s kick this off by reminding everyone that the job market across the country is still not good and the national unemployment rate is 6.7 percent. Meanwhile, according to the ABA, the unemployment rate for law grads nine months out is 11.2 percent. This makes the present unemployment rate for grads worse than the unemployment rate nationally ever got in the so-called Great Recession (which peaked just north of 10 percent). This is also an increase from last year’s data, which showed a 10.6 percent unemployment rate.[1]

But step away from the standard definition of unemployment as “unemployed but seeking” and get real by looking at unemployment proper coupled with underemployment. For that, we turn to Law School Transparency:

A devastating 26.8% were either underemployed (short-term or part-time or non-professional jobs) or not employed (unemployed or pursuing an additional degree). Unemployment is up to 13.7% from 13.2%, while underemployment is down to 11.4% from 12.5%.

That’s rough. LST also notes:

30 schools (14.9%) had more underemployed and non-employed graduates than graduates employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.

This is why we can’t be apologists for lower-tier law schools.

All in all, a mere 57 percent of graduates were employed in full-time, long-term (“FTLT”) jobs requiring bar passage nine months after graduation. This is up .8 percent from last year which will be spun as an improvement instead of “more of the same.” Also up a whopping .7 percent are graduates in FTLT jobs for which a law degree is preferred, which now totals around 10.1 percent of all grads.

Law schools continued to hire some grads to alleviate the pain of the market. From Law School Transparency:

  • The richest schools were able to hire their struggling graduates full time and long term; only 18 schools (9.0%) paid 5.0% or more of their graduates for long-term, full-time jobs that required bar passage.
    • 50% of these schools (9) were in the top 20 on the full-time, long-term rate without the benefit of the school-funded jobs; including school-funded jobs in the rate puts 67% of those schools (12) in the top 20.
    • Excluding school-funded jobs from the full-time, long-term legal rate caused all 5 schools over 90% to drop below that threshold.
  • Although the absolute number of full-time, long-term legal jobs funded by schools was relatively small (775, 2.0% of all employed graduates), there were 50% more of these jobs this year compared to last year.

Public-interest numbers were down big and government numbers were up a bit, but the ABA noted that a good chunk of this could be chalked up to redefining public defenders from public interest to a government job.

The ABA Journal noted one particularly interesting development:

• While the percentage of law firm positions increased only marginally, hiring at law firms of 500 or more lawyers rose by nearly 10 percent, from 3,643 for the class of 2012 to 3,989 for the class of 2013.

Biglaw leads the way! They must sense the market is turning for high-end legal services and, if right, that bodes well for the market as a whole. That said, don’t mistake this for a boom. This is the “modest uptick” and while there may be some spillover, this uptick is going to have its biggest impact on those students at top-tier schools who join Biglaw firms. Never forget that the number of projected future legal jobs remains low compared to the number of graduates law schools will churn out.

So let’s sum up this whole endeavor: the market sucks, unless you’re looking to join a Biglaw firm — in which case your life is what’s going to suck for the next couple years.


You can download the raw data broken down by law school here. Or for more convenience you can view school profiles on LST with all of the data.

2013 Law Graduate Employment Data [ABA]
New Law School Jobs Data Indicate Flat Entry-Level Legal Market [Law School Transparency]
Job outlook for newly minted lawyers still bleak, data shows [ABA Journal]

Earlier: The Law Schools With The Most Heavily Indebted Graduates

[1] While we’re at it, let’s check out the Final Four teams in the Worst Law Schools bracket. Florida Coastal has 173 graduates employed FTLT in bar passage jobs and 172 graduates unemployed seeking work. Thomas Jefferson has 85 grads employed FTLT in bar passage jobs and 79 unemployed seeking work. Liberty has 33 grads employed FTLT in bar passage jobs and 12 unemployed seeking work. Finally, champion Thomas M. Cooley has 308 grads employed FTLT in bar passage jobs and 319 unemployed seeking work. The voters seem to have made the right choice for the champion.

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