The National Association for Law Placement (NALP), an organization which connects and guides law firms and law school career offices, released its annual employment data and findings last week for the Class of 2015. By now you are probably aware Baylor graduates from that class reported high employment levels as compared to past year, and as compared to our peers in Texas and across the country. The NALP report helps give us a broader perspective of the overall market, as well as provides salary data which the American Bar Association (ABA), the other reporting entity, does not collect.
The key findings are these:
1) the overall employment rate of 86.7% was unchanged from 2014;
2) there were over 3,000 fewer jobs obtained by new graduates (I’ll reconcile the first two later in the post);
3) private practice (i.e. law firm) jobs were the fewest of any class since 1996 (representing just 51.3% of those employed);
4) those obtaining “JD Advantage” jobs decreased as a percentage, albeit slightly, for the first time since 2007; and
5) the national median salary rose to $64,800 from $63,000, the largest move since 2008.
Let’s look at each of these in more depth.
How is it that the employment rate remained unchanged at 86.7% when the class earned roughly 3,000 fewer jobs? Simply, there were fewer graduates seeking employment. Over the last few years law school enrollment nationwide has decreased, resulting in a shift in the labor supply market for entry-level attorneys upon graduation. What does that mean for you here at Baylor? Fortunately the Class of 2015 was able to execute on their job search strategy and beat the national number quite soundly (92.6%; I wrote about their efforts in a prior post here). So while there is reason for optimism if you follow in the Class of 2015 footsteps, the overall picture of fewer and fewer available jobs will eventually result in an even more competitive job market, as soon as law school enrollment numbers stabilize or begin increasing (reports indicate this is already happening).
We’ve seen the private practice (i.e. law firm) employment rate hover around 50% for a few years now. You should let that sink in—of those reporting themselves employed, only half are in private practice. This is important because if you succumb to a mindset that a law firm is the only route, or that there is something wrong with going a route other than a law firm, it will close off viable options you likely should be considering and that half of you will ultimately end up in anyway.
Since the recession of 2008, the rise of JD Advantage jobs has been one of the constants in each of these annual NALP reports. It appears that 2015 is the year when these jobs finally plateaued. As a reminder, JD Advantage jobs are those where the employer actively recruits candidates with a JD, but the position itself is not practicing law and does not require a bar license. These jobs made up 14.5% of the 2015 class, second only to bar license required positions (66.6%). Good examples are trust officers at a bank, compliance, contract specialists, and consultants. Baylor graduates have always trailed in this category, in favor of the bar license required positions (which makes sense given our emphasis on trial advocacy and litigation), so our numbers will likely remain where they are in this category (4.5% in 2015).
Finally, the salary number rising to $64,800 (Baylor remains above the national number with $70,000) is perhaps the best news to come out of this report. And you should know these numbers are before the large law firms increased their starting pay to $180,000. Circling back to our supply and demand explanation of the employment rate and overall job numbers, the fact that we see fewer jobs, fewer candidates and increased salaries means employer demand for new lawyers did not decline as much as the supply did (otherwise salaries would have remained constant). Again, that good news is tempered with the knowledge that as law school enrollment and graduating classes increase in size, reduced employer demand could result in lower employment (both real numbers and by percentage) and salaries.
The bottom line is we’re still in a challenging legal market, but if you are willing to do the work necessary as the Class of 2015 did, you can land the job you want and get a great start to your legal career.
As always, please contact any of us in the CDO if we can be of assistance to you. We are here to help!