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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tamanaha: The Poor Employment Market for Law Grads Predates the Recession

Brian Tamanaha (Washington U.), The Poor Employment Market for Law Grads Predates the Recession:

Two weeks ago I wrote a post about the remarkably high number of graduates of the class of 2009 who failed to obtain jobs as lawyers. When confronted with data like this, law schools respond that the dismal job placement rate is a recent phenomenon, a product of the current recession, suggesting that things were fine before and all will be well once again when the legal market rebounds. It’s wrong to isolate on and condemn law schools, they say, for results that reflect a historically bad time for jobs across the economy.

The problem with this response is that it is not true.

While it is correct that the recession exacerbated matters, things were not fine before, as demonstrated by the following chart, plotting the year before the recession, 2007 (in red), alongside 2009 (in blue). Notice that at many law schools--including schools ranked in the top 100--twenty percent or more of graduates of the class of 2007 failed to obtain jobs as lawyers (nine months after graduation).


Although the overall placement rate in lawyer jobs was indeed higher in 2007, prior to the implosion of the legal market that nailed the class of 2009, the same basic pattern held: ninety percent or more of the students at top law schools landed lawyer jobs while a significant percentage of graduates at many schools outside the elite did not. ... On a fairly consistent basis, almost one third of law graduates in the past decade have not obtained jobs as lawyers, and the above chart suggests that this is disproportionately the case at the lower ranked law schools. ...

Law schools wooing the next crop of incoming students will no doubt use the line that the employment situation is bad now because of the recession, but things will get better when the legal market turns around. And they will tell prospective students that three and a half years between now and their anticipated graduation is plenty of time for the job recovery to take place.

Don't buy it. There is no sign that the legal market will improve. And even if it does, at many law schools one-out-of three or one-out-of four graduates will not get jobs as lawyers.

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How many of them get decent jobs (say 70K+ per year)?

I don't think the students care whether they are working as lawyers as long as law school is preparing them for a relatively high paying job of some kind.

Posted by: reality bites | Oct 3, 2011 2:08:33 PM

Got news for you reality- many many lawyers don't make 70k their first year out. Hell, many many lawyers don't make 70k 5 years out. It depends on their luck, the firms they've been with and to some extent, their skill as lawyers. I am constantly trying to walk back the notion that ALL lawyers make alot of money. I'm a 10 year lawyer and my salary is far lower than I ever expected at this point in my career.

Posted by: Matt | Oct 4, 2011 10:28:15 AM

Bravo, Mr. T - it is long past time that someone systematically blew the cover off the rotten, *rotten* scam that is known as law school.

Posted by: sca721 | Oct 4, 2011 11:09:26 AM

How many of the law school graduates could not land a job because they could not pass the bar within 9 months of graduation?

Posted by: Anonymous | Oct 4, 2011 11:14:16 AM

Kiplinger keeps pushing getting a law degree.

Perhaps they're just setting up their next magazine offering "Unemployed Lawyer Quarterly"

Posted by: Tolbert | Oct 4, 2011 11:17:07 AM

This article appeared in the current Ohio Lawyer Magazine, which is published by the Ohio Bar Association. Unfortunately, only members can log in and read it on-line.

Prof. Carron: If you are not a member, drop me a line, and I will send it to you.

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2011, Volume 25. No. 5
The law school class of 2010: The real employment numbers
By Jason M. Dolin

This article is a follow-up to “Deciphering” and includes actual employment data—the hard numbers—obtained from Ohio’s five public law schools (Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland State, Ohio State and Toledo) through a public records request I sent to each of those schools on March 23, 2011. That records request sought employment and law school debt data for the law class of 2010. Because law schools report their employment statistics for each year’s graduating class to NALP approximately nine months after graduation, typically around mid-February, my public records request was timed to capture the final data for the graduating law school class of 2010.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Oct 4, 2011 12:23:30 PM

one-out-of three or one-out-of four graduates will not get jobs as lawyers.

You write that as if those of us that are not lawyers see this as a problem. While I do not expect you to agree with me, I see a problem with the number of lawyers we already have and a drop in the supply of lawyers as a good thing.

Posted by: TortMeNoMore | Oct 4, 2011 12:30:21 PM

Very nice work.

Just how bad things are (and have long been...) for *all* law graduate cohorts...can quickly be expressed by the following facts:

1) The National Law Journal Top 250 firms (which I would argue represent the bulk of the firms that pay salaries that justify law schools' now insane tuitions) employ a grand total of about 125,000 lawyers.

2) The ABA itself says there were about 1.2 *million* licensed lawyers in *2008*.

3) The Schools for Scandal are currently pumping out about 44,000 JDs per *year*.

Assuming a career of 40 years (25 to 65), that is 1.76 *million* licensed lawyers at today's run rate, if it reaches a steady state.

So, to sum up:


1,200,000+ lawyers clawing for 125,000-some lucrative jobs to pay off their six figure student loans.


1,800,000 lawyers clawing for <125,000-some lucrative jobs, if the market continues to contract.

Posted by: sca721 | Oct 4, 2011 12:50:42 PM

If you want to "count" law school grads who get non-law jobs that pay over $70K as "law school successes" then you have to count law school grads who get law related jobs that pay less than $70K as "law school failures" and once you get out of the top ranked schools and the top 25% at lots more law schools, I think that's a big group.

Posted by: Canthisbe | Oct 4, 2011 2:16:28 PM

Though the legal market might trend downward, the illegal market is going great guns.

Posted by: PacRim Jim | Oct 4, 2011 4:26:17 PM