New Lawyer Job Satisfaction is Generally High, NALP Survey Says

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Ninety-seven percent of the Class of 2019 law school graduates are employed and nearly half are “extremely satisfied” with their jobs, according to a recent survey by the National Association for Law Placement Foundation for Law Career Research and Education (NALP Foundation).

The NALP Foundation surveyed 1,927 Class of 2019 alumni from 42 U.S. law schools between November 2022 and January 2023.

The survey covered topics like employment status, compensation, job mobility and satisfaction, and how well alumni felt their legal education prepared them for practice.

Overall lawyer job satisfaction increased

Forty-seven percent of the Class of 2019 lawyers are “extremely satisfied” with their jobs, compared to 42% of the Class of 2018. Thirty-eight percent of 2019 alumni said they are “somewhat satisfied.”

Alumni were most satisfied in areas including job security, their fit with their organization’s culture, and the level of responsibility they have.

Alumni also reported higher job satisfaction when working in a hybrid model or completely in the office rather than in fully remote positions.

When asked how law schools prepared them for employment, most respondents said the skills they learned align with those that are most important in their current jobs.

These included areas like “ethics and professional responsibility” and “litigation/legal skills,” such as legal research, analysis, writing, and trial advocacy.

Alumni were least satisfied with how law schools taught them skills used to manage a law practice, such as administrative operations and project management.

Law schools support lawyer ‘professional identity’

For the first time, the survey asked alumni how their law schools supported them in developing a professional identity, which is described by the American Bar Association (ABA) as “what it means to be a lawyer and the special obligations lawyers have to their clients and society.”

This is especially important, given recent revisions to the ABA’s accreditation standards that now require law schools to include professional responsibility in their curricula.

The revisions to Standard 303(b) include the addition of language stating that “a law school shall provide substantial opportunities to students for… (3) the development of a professional identity.”

A new interpretation accompanies the revision, adding clarification and guidance. New Interpretation 303-5 states, in part:

“The development of a professional identity should involve an intentional exploration of the values, guiding principles, and well-being practices considered foundational to successful legal practice. Because developing a professional identity requires reflection and growth over time, students should have frequent opportunities during each year of law school and in a variety of courses and co-curricular and professional development activities.”

Alumni felt that their law schools prepared them to recognize their obligations to clients and society and the importance of providing pro bono/community service. These skills received the highest satisfaction ratings from respondents.

Almost all (95%) alumni said they participated in at least one experiential learning experience during law school and most (70%) rated these courses as top resources for advancing their professional identities.

When asked how they have explored their professional identities after graduation, 66% said colleagues and peers have been most helpful, followed by programs and events organized by employers (54%) and bar associations (50%). Fourteen percent said there are no resources of value for this purpose.

Lawyers face ongoing challenges

Survey respondents noted that well-being continues to be a concern. The respondents reported low satisfaction rates in both how their law schools prepared them to adopt “well-being practices” and how their employers support their mental health and well-being.

Moreover, 39% of alumni said the continuing pandemic is exacerbating well-being challenges, an all-time high for this data. Women reported concerns with mental health and well-being at higher rates than men.

While a historically low percentage (13%) of employed alumni reported they were actively seeking a new job, graduates of color reported switching jobs at higher rates than white graduates.

Generally, most of those who sought new jobs did so for “better compensation/bonuses” (62%) and “attitude ‘fit’ concerns” (42%). Men and alumni of color identified “no clear advancement path/prospects” as a motive for changing jobs at higher rates than women and white alumni overall.

In the survey’s report, NALP Executive Director Nikia Gray said that these concerns may be due to a lack of training, mentoring, and role models for graduates of color. She encouraged employers that are seeking to improve their retention of diverse lawyers to explore what changes they can make to address these issues.

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