Diversity

First-Generation Lawyers Face Fewer Jobs and Lower Pay Than Peers, NALP Data Says

Inclusive and discrimination conceptNew data from the National Association of Law Placement (NALP) found that first-generation law students who don’t have at least one parent with a bachelor’s degree or higher have a harder time securing jobs after graduation than their peers.

Moreover, first-generation students, who are often racial minorities, earn less than their peers and aren’t as likely to secure coveted private practice jobs or judicial clerkships.

NALP’s Class of 2020 Employment Report and Salary Survey explored the impact of parental education on employment outcomes for the first time.

Overall, 22.5% of the class of 2020 graduates were first-generation college students. However, this number was higher for Native American or Alaska Native (55%), Latinx (41.9%), Black (35.9%), and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (33.3%) graduates.

Asian graduates were the most likely to be continuing-generation college students (75.1%) — or graduates who have at least one parent or guardian with a bachelor’s degree or higher, but not a JD degree — while white graduates were the least likely to be first-generation college students (17.8%) and the most likely to be continuing-generation JD students (17.7%) – or graduates who have at least one parent or guardian with a JD.

Chart 1. Class of 2020 Graduates by Level of Parental/Guardian Education and Race/Ethnicity (in percentages)

“A higher percentage of graduates of color were reported as first-generation college students, and distressingly we continue to see that the lowest overall employment rates were measured for Black and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander law school graduates,” James Leipold, NALP’s Executive Director, said in a press release. “It is incumbent upon law schools to put in the hard work necessary to close these gaps.”

Fewer jobs and lower pay

The employment rate was almost 5% higher (92.8% vs. 88%) and the rate of employment in bar passage required/anticipated jobs was more than 11% higher (84.3% vs. 73.2%) for continuing-generation JD students than for first-generation students.

In addition, continuing-generation JD students and continuing-generation college students were more likely to secure judicial clerkships and jobs in private practice, particularly in large law firms, while first-generation college students were more likely to be employed in government positions.

And these private practice jobs often lead to higher salaries. Median salaries for continuing-generation JD students and continuing-generation college students were about $13,000 and $8,000 higher, respectively, than those of first-generation college students.

Chart 2. Private Practice Employment by Level of Parental/Guardian Education and Firm Size — Class of 2020 (in percentages)

Additional disparities in employment outcomes

Disparities in employment outcomes by race/ethnicity continued to be evident this year, according to NALP.

White/Caucasian graduates had the highest employment rate (90.1%), while Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander and Black or African American graduates had the lowest employment rates (81.5% and 83.8%, respectively).

White/Caucasian graduates also had the highest level of employment in bar passage required/anticipated jobs (78%), while the rate was nearly 16% lower for Black graduates (62.5%) and more than 21% lower for Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander graduates (56.8%).

Median starting salaries for graduates who are Asian were $70,000 higher than those for graduates who are Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander and Native American or Alaskan.

In looking at gender, women had the highest employment rate (89.4%). However, men had a higher median salary ($76,570) than women ($73,000) and nonbinary graduates ($64,000).

LGBTQ graduates were more than twice as likely and nonbinary graduates were more than four times as likely to take jobs in public interest as compared to graduates overall.

And graduates with disabilities had a lower overall employment rate (83%), as well as a lower percentage of graduates employed in bar passage required/anticipated jobs (68.1%).

The Commission on Professionalism’s Jumpstart law school preparatory program supports students from communities that are traditionally underrepresented in law school develop the academic and interpersonal skills needed to navigate law school and become successful legal professionals. Learn more about Jumpstart here.

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