Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Reflections On Legal Employment Outcomes Over The Past Five Years

With the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar’s reporting of employment outcomes for the Class of 2018, I thought it might make some sense to look at five-year trends for a couple of different categories of jobs data.

The Total Number of Graduates in Full-time, Long-term Bar Passage Required or JD Advantage Positions Increased Slightly for the Class of 2018

First, as shown in Table 1, with respect to full-time, long-term, Bar Passage Required (BPR) and JD Advantage (JDA) positions, the Class of 2018 offers some good news, with the first-increase in the total number of these positions in the last four years, increasing from 26,302 for the Class of 2017 to 26,632 for the Class of 2018 (although down from 29,740 for the Class of 2014).

Table 1 -- Full-time, Long-Term BPR and JDA for Class of 2014 to Class of 2018






% of Grads in FTLTBPR/JDA































This is the second year in a row in which full-time, long-term BPR positions increased (from 22,851 for the Class of 2016, to 23,117 for the Class of 2017, to 23,424 for the Class of 2018), although still down from 24,978 for the Class of 2014.  This year also saw a four-year decline in the number of full-time, long-term JDA jobs paused as the number of these positions grew from 3,185 for the Class of 2017 to 3,208 for the Class of 2018 (still down almost one-third from the 4,762 for the Class of 2014).

Because the number of graduates has fallen from 43,132 for the Class of 2014 to 34,283 for the Class of 2018, the percentage of graduates in full-time, long-term BPR or JDA positions has climbed for the fourth consecutive year, reaching 77.68% (up from 68.95% for the Class of 2014).

Interestingly, if one just looks separately at the percentage of graduates in full-time, long-term BPR positions as a percentage of July first-time bar passers from ABA-accredited law schools, the percentage has grown for three consecutive years from 72.75% for the Class of 2014 to 89.59% for the Class of 2017.  Given the modest increase in the number of full-time, long-term BPR positions for the Class of 2018, this percentage likely grew again for the Class of 2018, probably increasing to over 90% (although the number of July first-time passers for the Class of 2018 has not been posted yet by the NCBE).

Table 2 -- Full-time, Long-term BPR as a Percentage of July 1st Time Bar Passers from ABA-Accredited Law Schools for 2014-2017



July 1st Passers from ABA-Acc. Schools

Graduates with Full-time, Long-term BPR Jobs as a Percentage of July 1st Time Bar Passers from ABA Acc. Schools 

















Bad News Indicators Continue to Improve

Second, looking at “bad news” indicators, one sees positive trends as well.  Focusing just on the percentage of graduates whose employment status is “unemployed seeking,” the Class of 2018 showed a continued decline.  Between the Class of 2014 and the Class of 2018, there has been a steady decline in the percentage of graduates who are unemployed seeking, from 9.91% for the Class of 2014 to 7.28% for the Class of 2018.  Similarly, the percentage of graduates whose employment status is “unknown,” although it bumped up a little for the Class of 2018, remains near the low for the Class of 2017.  For the Class of 2014, those with unknown status were 2.06% of the graduates.  That percentage fell over the next three years to 1.38% for the Class of 2017, before bouncing up slightly to 1.46% for the Class of 2018.

Table 3 -- Percentage of Graduates with Bad News Indicators for Class of 2014 to Class of 2018


Unemployed Seeking

















Jerry Organ, Legal Education | Permalink


"There are still law students and plenty of grad students who think it is a scam, Trump is out to get them, etc."

Yes - because Trump and Senator Alexander (who is in charge of reauthorizing the HEA) and Betsy Devos have all consistently, vocally been calling for eliminating PSLF and GradPLUS loans. I know you would like 0Ls to ignore this reality so they continue to come to law school, future funding and repayment options be damned, but it is still very likely that PSLF in particular will be throttled. Even Obama said he was willing to limit it to about $60k of loans during his second term. It. Has. No. Future.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 3, 2019 9:43:23 AM

The key words are, "who believe they qualify". The GAO report is instructive

The requirements are simple:
Right loans, right repayment plan, right job, 120 months. Let's unpack
Right loans - Federal Direct Loans
Prior to the ACA of 2010, upwards of 90% of loans were not federal direct loans, they were FFELP. Federal education loan borrowers after July 2010 were required to borrow Direct Loans (and have health insurance). Pre 2010 loans had to be consolidated into Federal Direct Loans in order to be eligible. Approval rates will increase after 2020.
Right payment plan. 10 year standard repayment or approved income driven payment plan. Until 2009, there was only one ICR plan only for Direct Loans -and it was not that good. Beginning in 2009 - 10 years ago, the IBR was put in place.
Right job - Federal, state, local, tribal government or 501(c)3 employer or other detailed in the law. Until 2010, there was no "pre approval" of jobs. ED got into trouble approving then unapproving in 2014 (see ABA suit).
120 months - hard to meet all of those qualifications prior to 2010
There are still law students and plenty of grad students who think it is a scam, Trump is out to get them, etc.
Congress last year passed funding for those who applied but were rejected for being on the wrong repayment plan. Lots of fanfare, fewer than 100 eligible applicants.
I do agree with your fear that as more are approved there will be rising concern about cost. One of the reasons for DL only, though, is voodoo accounting and no apparent cost to taxpayers...

Posted by: FPSLF | May 3, 2019 6:06:37 AM

"the logical course for many grads is finding and keeping a loan-forgiveness job for the required 10 years."

Tom, don't make me laugh. PSLF was a farce from the day of its inception. Nothing more than an empty promise. As UNE pointed out, over 99.5% of applicants who believe they qualify for forgiveness are rejected. It's a bureaucratic nightmare that even Kaftka would would laugh at as over the top. The catch 22 is that if the forgiveness rate ever increases, the Govt will just scrap the program over the cost, as they are trying to do already.

Posted by: JM | May 1, 2019 9:29:51 AM

Regardless of what the salary is for PDs in Santa Clara county (nice deflection!), what about the cost of living there? It's one of the most unaffordable areas, unless you live in a sketchy part of San Jose (hey, at least you can see your clients on the streets!)

Posted by: John Saunders | May 1, 2019 6:40:07 AM

Super representative sample there Steve.

Also, the starting salary for PDs in Santa Clara is currently $63K, so getting that up to $150K when you add in benefits is quite a trick.

Posted by: Academic Observer | May 1, 2019 5:56:34 AM

I totally agree with JM’s comment. The numerous “we’re back” articles almost never mention any salary information. Many of the BPR jobs are state and local-government jobs and small-firm jobs for which the salaries are commensurate with those available to the same students when they graduated from college. Moreover, with three more years of loans for many students, the logical course for many grads is finding and keeping a loan-forgiveness job for the required 10 years. Life must be different (in many ways) in Santa Clara County (see Steve Diamond’s comment above) but the public-defender jobs in the Northeast and Midwest generally pay well below $60,000.

Posted by: Tom Sharbaugh | May 1, 2019 4:17:44 AM

Hey Steve, has your school's ten-months-after-graduation-unemployment rate gone below 25% yet? Also a bit of Googling reveals that those folk actually start around $63k in salary, which ain't all that great considering the cost of shouldering seven years of high education in what is now by far the most expensive housing market in America.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Apr 30, 2019 10:38:19 PM

Junior public defenders in Santa Clara County make 150K in salary and benefits.

Posted by: Steve Diamond | Apr 30, 2019 1:29:36 PM


You mean the PSLF program where a mighty 262 of 38,460 applicants have had their loans forgiven? It's a sure thing! As sure as that million dollars those health-insurance free solo practitioners get at some nebulous point in the future...

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Apr 30, 2019 11:49:26 AM

And of course all of these FTLTBPR jobs are treated as superb outcomes. In reality, many of them are one year state court clerkships that are a waystation to unemployment, jobs in small firms paying $40-60k with no benefits, and public service/government jobs that pay $40-60k only with the PLSF hall of mirrors to make people feel better about it. All of those jobs are disastrous outcomes as well.

Posted by: JM | Apr 30, 2019 9:19:47 AM

I'm looking continually downward trending numbers of FTLTBPR and FTLTJDA jobs and wondering where the good news is once we account for most of the *good news* being the result of a still-decreasing denominator (number of graduates). As the 1L denominator is beginning to increase, in a few years the incredibly anemic job performance this decade will be brought into further focus - and that's before other potential horrorshows,like the end of GradPLUS and PSLF, are factored in. At the beginning of the decade, back when the world's economy was on fire, there were nearly 27k FTLTBPR jobs. Now there are barely 24k. The economy needs fewer and fewer new lawyers as it discovers more and more means to not need them. Like Susskind has said, we are just the most expensive service provider in the overall business (not profession) of law. It's not an enviable place to be.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Apr 30, 2019 8:22:37 AM