The legal employment market may be improving for recent law school graduates, according to new data from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). Late last month, NALP released a summary of key findings from its annual Jobs & JDs: Employment and Salaries of New Law School Graduates report. The data showed that while the employment rate for law school graduates continues to rise, graduates found 150 fewer jobs in 2018 than 2017.
Legal employment market makes gains
Members of the class of 2018 experienced an 89.4% employment rate, compared to 88.6% in 2017. The number of law firm jobs also increased slightly in 2018. Though the increase was just 21 jobs, it marks the first time this number has risen in five years. The biggest increase in hiring was at large firms of 500 or more attorneys.
The private practice employment rate was 54.8%, increasing for the seventh year in a row and nearing pre-recession averages of 55-58%.
The average salary nationwide for the class of 2018 was $98,150, an increase of 3% from 2017. The average salary at law firms was $123,900, up 3.5% from 2017.
The level of employed graduates in public service jobs (e.g., military, government, judicial clerkships, public interest) was among the highest ever reported. However, at 30.5% this number is generally consistent with the 26-30% the industry has seen over the past 30 years.
Nearing pre-recession levels?
The legal employment market for the classes of 2017 and 2018 more closely resembles the levels reported before the 2007-2009 recession, said NALP Executive Director James G. Leipold in a press release. He credits a smaller graduating class and strong hiring at large law firms as contributing factors in 2018.
However, gains haven’t been consistent across the board, indicating that the industry still has a way to go. While the overall number of jobs at the largest law firms increased slightly from 2017, entry-level jobs at these firms are still down more than 400 positions compared to the class of 2008. And firms between 251 and 500 lawyers provided only half the number of jobs in 2018 that they provided in 2007 (966 in 2018 compared to 1,815 in 2007).
Ten months after graduation, 2018 graduates faced an 8.3% unemployment rate. This is nearly three points higher than pre-recession levels. And while full-time jobs are growing beyond pre-recession levels, part-time employment has declined for seven years in a row.
NALP plans to release its full report on the legal employment market Jobs & JDs: Employment and Salaries of New Law School Graduates — Class of 2018 in October 2019.
Learn more about NALP here.