Job market for law grads shows improvement

Matthew Chaney//October 9, 2018

Job market for law grads shows improvement

Matthew Chaney//October 9, 2018

Online Job Application Laptop MAINThe job market for Virginia law school graduates improved modestly from 2016 to 2017, based on an analysis of data published by the American Bar Association and the National Association for Law Placement.

While statistics for the class of 2018 won’t be available until Spring of 2019, law school placement officials from many of Virginia’s law schools pointed out an increase in the percentage of students who found employment after graduation from 2016 to 2017.

“All signs for now appear to be really strong,” said Cliff Jarrett, assistant dean of career strategy at Washington and Lee’s law school. “The overall economy strength helps … law firm hiring is strong, government hiring is strong.”

As of April, 91.5 percent of the graduating class of 2017 had jobs, compared with 90.6 percent of the class of 2016 at that same time the year before. For comparison, the national average employment rate for 2017 grads was 88.6 percent, according to the NALP.

The class with the lowest percentage of graduates employed in the last 20 years nationally (2013) had an 84.5 percent employment rate, according to the NALP, while the class with the highest rate in that time period (2007) had a 91.9 percent employment rate.

Five of Virginia’s eight law schools saw higher rates of employment for graduates in 2017 than in 2016, with the others diminishing only slightly.

“I think it’s the case that the job market is better than it’s been since the recession in 2008,” said Janet D. Hutchinson, associate dean for career development at the University of Richmond’s law school. “I’ve seen an uptick in the number of employers coming to campus and posting opportunities online, looking for both graduates and law students.”

While the total number of jobs for Virginia law grads may be growing modestly, the statistics show that part of the increased rate of employment can be attributed to a slightly smaller class size in 2017. 2016 saw 1,119 students graduate from Virginia law schools, while only 1,082 graduated in 2017.

“While class sizes have been consistent over the last three to four years, the number of applicants are still lagging behind the 2007-2008 years,” said David Cho, the assistant dean for career services at George Mason’s law school. “There’s an argument to be made that fewer students might lead to better odds.”

This is in line with national trends, according to a report published by the NALP which said that nationally, a higher percentage of 2017 graduates found jobs, “even though the number of jobs found by graduates fell again.”

While the employment rate is an important indicator of the health of the legal job market, a more specific indicator that some placement directors pointed toward is the percentage of graduates who took jobs for which bar passage is required.

The NALP reports that nationally, 71.8 percent of law graduates took jobs that require bar passage in 2017. The ABA puts the national average even lower, at 68.7 percent. An analysis of data reported to the ABA shows that 76.4 percent of Virginia graduates took jobs that require bar passage in 2017. This is also up from 2016, when 74.4 percent of Virginia law graduates took jobs requiring bar passage.

Six out of eight of Virginia law schools also improved by this metric from 2016 to 2017.

Other placement directors touted clerkships and placements in large, high-paying firms.

Michael J. Ende, associate dean in the office of career services at William and Mary’s law school, said the school ranked 30th in a national poll for placing grads in large law firms and that it had the 14th highest percentage of grads to secure federal judicial clerkships.

Meanwhile, the University of Virginia, which routinely ranks within the top ten in U.S. News’ Law School Rankings, had 69.3 percent of its graduates go to firms with over 100 employees, and ranked 11th nationally in the percentage of grads with federal judicial clerkships.

“The national market for high end legal jobs is good,” said Kevin M. Donovan, senior assistant dean for career services at UVA’s law school explained.

But what about the market for law students who don’t want high-end legal jobs at large firms or federal clerkships, or who don’t quite meet the necessary qualifications?

“What we’re seeing is more opportunity in the J.D. advantage side,” said Timothy Spaulding, associate dean for external relations at Liberty University’s law school. “The job market has changed in the past 10 to 12 years when the attorney jobs started dropping out. People started saying, ‘Where can I go, what else can I do with this?’”

Jarrett said keeping an open mind and having patience can lead law grads to where they eventually want to wind up.

“Be open to lots of types of opportunities,” he said, “keeping in mind that in today’s legal market, your first job is not likely to be your last or only job. It may not be your dream job, but you can still get there in lots of ways.”

Hutchinson said that there will always be a need for employees with the skills learned in law school.

“There are still really wonderful opportunities, even though it’s a changing profession,” she said. “The training you get in law school is wonderful for actively practicing and doing a whole host of things that require analytical thinking and strong writing.”

Several placement officials said that while employment stats are important for measuring the health of the legal job market and their work helping students get hired, they are still just tools. They said the most important thing is working with individuals to help them get where they want to go.

“We strive to do whatever we can to assist and help each and every student find meaningful employment,” Cho said. “We view it from an individual perspective.”

Spaulding agreed with Hutchinson that regardless of what students choose to pursue after graduation, earning the degree will help.

“A law degree is an incredible tool,” he said. “It’s a huge asset in almost every facet of the workplace industry, whether they want to practice or not, it’s a huge asset.”

Otherwise, an improving legal market is good for everyone.

“This is a market that has a lot of great potential opportunities,” Donovan said.


Verdicts & Settlements

See All Verdicts & Settlements


See All Viewpoint


How Is My Site?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...