Law school students find disconnect between what they want and what they find after graduation
Published: July 9, 2012
Two recent studies show an enormous disconnect between the reasons why undergraduates decide on a law school and the world that awaits them after they receive their law degrees.
To wit: The American Bar Association recently reported that only 55 percent of recent law school graduates obtained full-time employment that required a juris doctorate.
At the same time, a contemporaneous survey of 645 potential law students by Kaplan Test Prep returned the result that only eight percent of them ranked potential employment as their most important reason for attending law school. That survey figure ranked employment as the lowest of the several criteria that Kaplan used when asking these potential students what would be their criteria for choosing a law school.
The potential students’ first criterion for choosing one law school over another was the school’s U.S. News and World Report ranking.
Anyone following this story knows that the U.S. News law school ranking has been under attack for some time now because of its susceptibility to manipulation by less-than-honest law school administrators.
They would also know that numerous law schools—as many as a quarter of all U.S. law schools, in fact-–are either being sued or are under threat of litigation because of accusations of data manipulation intended to increase their U.S. News ranking.
Nevertheless, incoming law students still use that ranking as their primary reason to choose a law school, with 34 percent of students surveyed choosing that ranking first.
The students who responded to the Kaplan survey also ranked location (22 percent), academic programming (20 percent) and affordability (13 percent) ahead of school employment statistics.
In fairness, it may be said that a school’s employment statistics may be as manipulatable as any other of their self-generated information, and that a school’s employment information is a component of its ranking in any case.
On the other hand, the two studies show that many law students simply have no idea what the job market for new lawyers actually is. For instance, nearly 40 percent of the students surveyed by Kaplan wanted a job in a large law firm (more than 100 lawyers) upon graduation. But the ABA report showed that only about 10 percent of new graduates actually have those jobs a year after graduation.
The ABA employment statistics, relating to the graduating class of 2011 and published on June 18, do paint a pretty grim picture of the employment landscape for the recent law grads. The statistics were taken nine months after a “typical May graduation” in February 2012.
The National Association for Legal Career Professionals (NALP) did some number-crunching and the statistics may give new law school applicants pause.
"For members of the class of 2011,” said NALP Executive Director James Leipold, “caught as they were in the worst of the recession, entering law school in the fall of 2008 just as Lehman Brothers collapsed, going through OCI (on-campus interviews) in the fall of 2009 and summering in 2010 if they were lucky enough to secure a summer associate spot, the entry-level job market can only be described as brutal.”
First, the overall employment rate for new law school graduates is, at 85.6 percent, the lowest it has been since 1994 when the rate stood at 84.7 percent. This includes any and all types of employment. The employment rate has fallen more than six percentage points since reaching a 23-year high of 91.9 percent in 2007.
Of those graduates for whom employment was known, only 65.4 percent obtained a job for which bar passage is required. This figure has fallen over nine percentage points just since 2008—when it was 74.7 percent—and is the lowest percentage NALP has ever measured. According to NALP, this indicates a severe downward trend in this employment area.
Concomitantly, the percentage of new attorneys hired to general business positions is swinging upward. Employment in business was 18.1 percent, the highest that NALP has measured, up from 15.1 percent for the class of 2010. More than half of those jobs represent new lawyers registering with employment agencies that specialize in placing people into temporary legal positions.
Check the ABA website for all the raw data.