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Class of 2019 Had the Best Employment Rate Since the Great Recession
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While the graduating class of 2019 was lucky enough to enjoy the most robust entry-level employment market in a decade, this year’s law grads are doomed to face a different reality, a new report shows.

According to new data from the National Association of Law Placement (NALP), which gathered data from 196 schools in mid-March of 2020, almost 90% of 2019 law school grads got a job after graduation, the highest mark since the pre-Great Recession class of 2007 with an employment rate of 91.9%. The class of 2019 saw a slight uptick from the 89.49% employment rate for the graduating class of 2018.

Law grads of 2019 also enjoyed a median starting salary of $72,000, a record previously held by the graduating class of 2009 – the last generation to benefit from a strong employment market before the recession sent things into a downward spiral.

  
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More than 90.% of 2019 law grads were able to find full-time long term jobs within seven months after graduation.

“Pre-pandemic, the legal services economy was strong, as was the job market for new law school graduates, and in many ways, the graduating class had been rightsized for the job market,” wrote NALP Executive Director Jim Leipold in his commentary on the new data. “Now it is all but inevitable that the employment outcomes for the class of 2019 will stand as a high-water mark for some time to come, though of course even some of the jobs they had secured are at risk in the current environment.”

But, the impressive employment rate was not mainly a result of increased demand for entry-level law job positions, the NALP report notes. The number of jobs obtained by 2019 law grads was flat or dropped in almost every sector, with the exception of large law firms.

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Around 4,960 of 2019 law graduates were placed at large firms of 500 or more attorneys— more than 30% of total law firm jobs were at large firms. It was this large-firm hiring in 2019 that pushed up entry-level salaries, given that large firms now pay associates starting salaries of $190,000, NALP noted. In fact, 35% of the law firm salaries reported to NALP were at that $190,000 level.

The percentage of new law graduates securing jobs in private practice increased to 55.2%, while 11.5% landed clerkships, 11.4% secured government jobs, and 8% were hired in public interest positions.



“In very simple terms, the rising employment rate can be explained by the fact that the size of the graduating class has consistently fallen faster over the last six years than has the number of jobs secured,” Leipold wrote.

Unfortunately, the class of 2019 could be the last to enjoy a robust employment market, the report warns. The graduating class of 2020 and those following are most likely to face a challenging job market with the pandemic exhausting the economy and sowing uncertainty.

“The bad news is that they are not likely to be predictive of the unemployment outcomes for the next several classes, as the recession and other changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to provide a much more challenging job market for some years to come,” warned James Leipold, NALP’s executive director.

“The need for lawyers will persist, but the current historic events unfolding around us are likely to change the legal sector, like every sector, in ways that are hard to foresee or predict with any accuracy,” Leipold wrote.



 

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