The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) just released its employment data for the law school class of 2013. Roughly nine months after graduation, how are these folks faring in the job market?

As we’ve come to expect from jobs reports in the post-recession “new normal” (which is no longer really “new”), there’s good news and there’s bad news. The big picture: new graduates found more jobs in total and median starting salaries grew, but the overall employment rate fell due to the historically large graduating class.

Shall we take a look at some numbers?

Here’s a report on the NALP data from the National Law Journal:

Among the class of 2013, 84.5 percent of graduates had secured jobs [within nine months of graduation], compared with 84.7 percent the previous year. Their employment rate was 7.4 percentage points lower than the 91.9 percent high reached in 2007. Since 1985, only two classes—1992 and 1993—have posted a lower overall employment rate than the class of 2013.

On the positive side, NALP found that median starting salaries crept up slightly, from $61,245 in 2012 to $62,467 in 2013. Moreover, a slightly higher percentage of graduates found jobs in private practice and at larger law firms.

Some specifics on those private-practice and Biglaw jobs, from NALP:

[J]ust over half (51.1%) of employed graduates obtained a job in private practice, up from 50.7% for the Class of 2012 and the highest since 2010. However, that figure for the Class of 2010 represented a full 5 percentage point decline from 2009….

Additionally, jobs in the largest firms, those with more than 500 lawyers, continued to rebound from their low point in 2011, and accounted for 20.6% of jobs taken in law firms, compared with only 16.2% in 2011 and 19.1% in 2012. The number of jobs taken in these firms — at almost 4,000 — is up by over 9% over 2012 levels, representing a recovery to just over 2010 levels but to nowhere near the 2009 figure of more than 5,100 jobs.

I see the glass here as half-full. Things aren’t back to the glory days, and maybe they never will be, but they are getting better.

The problem is that — at least from the perspective of law grads seeking employment (rather than law schools seeking tuition revenue or consumers seeking cheap legal services from desperate lawyers) — too many people are still going to law school. Because the class of 2013 was larger than the class of 2012, the overall employment rate fell, even though a higher total number of people found jobs. (Of course, the difference between 84.5% and 84.7% is negligible; just call it a wash.)

What does the future hold for subsequent law school classes? I’ll reiterate my prior optimistic prediction: “a static job market combined with falling law school enrollment should (hopefully) improve the chances of a decent employment outcome.”

But that depends on law school enrollment continuing to dip (or at least to remain depressed). The problem is that if the returns to a law degree start to rise again, law school will start to attract more people, and the employment rate will start to fall. As they say, water finds its own level.

To any people out there who are thinking of law school but have other options — maybe medical school, engineering, or finance — do your friends a favor and don’t go to law school. Save law school for the math-challenged humanities majors who have nowhere else to turn — you know, the truly hopeless.

P.S. I can say this as one of the truly hopeless. I majored in English and couldn’t figure out for the life of me what else to do after college, so I went straight through to law school.

For Second Year in a Row New Grads Find More Jobs, Starting Salaries Rise [NALP]
Market Struggles to Absorb Record Law School Class of ’13 [National Law Journal]

Earlier: Are Summer Associate Hiring And Entry-Level Hiring Picking Up?
ATL vs. Law Dean vs. Common Sense


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