‘After the JD’ Finding Puts Old Scamblog Calculation in the Ballpark

Debra Cassens Weiss titled her article on the After the JD study’s third wave (2012) survey results as, “24 percent of JDs who passed the bar in 2000 aren’t practicing law, survey finds.” This is a very accurate, descriptive title. However, she could have used, “Study’s Preliminary Findings Pretty Close to Scamblogger’s Calculation,” and it still would’ve been accurate.

Those of you with long memories of all things scamblog will recall that Frank the Underemployed Professional of Fluster Cucked ran a “back-of-the-envelope” calculation that “wasn’t suited for formal publication” of how many recent law school graduates hadn’t found work as lawyers. For 1999-2008, he figured it was 29 percent; for 2003 to 2008, it was 27 percent.

Compare that to the After the JD’s 24 percent for year-2000 bar-passers. You can take issue with Frank’s methodology, but his results align to reality in my opinion.

There are a few points that I think are worth extracting from Cassens Weiss’ article:

1). Even the researcher presenting the results, Ronit Dinovitzer, was surprised by the finding, claiming that 2000 was the golden age for finishing law school.

2). We’re still dying to know how many bar-passers (to say nothing of non-bar-passers) were unemployed or who had never really entered the profession to begin with, or how many left involuntarily. The best we have is this quote:

The careers with the highest percentage of nonpracticing lawyers were the the nonprofit and education sector, where about 75 percent weren’t practicing; and the federal government, where nearly 26 percent were nonpracticing. Nonpracticing careers ranged from law professors to real-estate agents to investment bankers, Dinovitzer said.

This is all pretty vague, but most of these careers do not look like they benefit much from formal legal education.

3). Seriously, signaling matters. Who knew?

There were also pay differences based on schools and grades. Graduates of the top 10 law schools who worked full-time earned median pay that was $73,500 more per year than graduates of Tier 4 schools. And among graduates of Tier 3 schools, grades made a big difference. In that group, those with the highest grade point averages had median pay that was $121,500 more than those with the lowest grades.

4). Rumors of biglaw’s turnover are well founded.

Among graduates of the top 10 law schools, only 16.8 percent were working in large firms of more than 250 lawyers in 2012, compared to 55.3 percent in 2003 and 28.7 percent in 2007.

5). The non-practicing figure is certainly going to be higher for subsequent years, and if the same rate were applied flatly to post-2000 ABA classes only, we’re looking at more than 150,000 out of 630,000 bar passers (with some duplicates) who aren’t working as lawyers today. Also, there were only 38,000-39,000 ABA law school graduates in 1999-2000. Last year there were probably 47,000 fighting for even fewer jobs. I doubt that in 2025, we’ll find so many law grads from last year still practicing.

6). Female year-2000 bar-passers in 2012 earned 80 percent of what male bar-passers did. Different pay for different work probably, but it must be said ex ante that law school is a bigger gamble for women than men.

7). Last but not least, compare the After the JD 2012 survey with “From 1L to 401(k),” discussed many moons ago here, which covered a group of law students in 1975. It found that depending on the school, the percentage of graduates who weren’t practicing 35 years later ranged from 22 to 35 percent. Lawyers licensed in 2000 have already entered that window.

I will close by adding that much of the 24 percent non-practice rate must be attributable to the Lesser Depression and the Great Law Depression rather than law school overbuilding. The 2000s haven’t helped with around 20 new law schools, though, but that just shows how detached law schools are from their consequences.

Still, kudos to Frank the Underemployed Professional.



  1. “There were also pay differences based on schools and grades. Graduates of the top 10 law schools who worked full-time earned median pay that was $73,500 more per year than graduates of Tier 4 schools”

    Someone needs to inform S&M of this development.

    1. But they measured a premium!

      S&M proved that the Tier 4 grads still earned more than the equivalent percentile college graduates with similar demographic characteristics.

      Remember, law grads who earn the minimum wage are so stupid that if they’d stopped at college they’d be unemployed, and if they stopped at high school they’d be enslaved. They should be thankful for all their law schools have done for them.

      1. I was referring to one of their endless I’m-right-because-I-say-so! postscripts on Leiter’s blog, in which they essentially said they found no meaningful difference in salary outcomes between high- and low-ranked law schools. I would link to it, but I don’t want my digital fingerprints anywhere near B.L. I’m pretty sure it was the same postscript where they said that the bimodal salary distribution doesn’t exist.

      2. I checked on the Wayback Machine. I think it was on August 5th that Simkovic tried to argue that the lifetime earnings premium demonstrated that the bimodal NALP distribution vanishes over time:

        After the JD II suggests faster growth of earnings (on a percentage basis) for graduates of lower ranked schools who have lower average initial earnings, which suggests convergence of earnings over time

        Yeah, not so much. Even the 1L to 401(k) article I cited calls that claim into question. Grads from “Urban” law schools were much less likely than “Elite” or “State” law school grads to still be practicing law 30 years or so later—and those folks graduated in the 1970s. Still, those 2000 T4 grads have, what, another 30 years in the workforce for their incomes to catch up with elite grads’?

        But that’s nothing, “Salaries exclude bonuses, which may be more variable than earnings.” You know, because all those grads from unranked law schools are getting huge bonuses compared to their peers in biglaw, even if they’re unemployed. Magic money!

        I can’t believe he could write that with a straight face. If he’s pulling an Alan Sokal, he’s waited too long to fess up.

  2. So I left a comment over at the ABA Journal article (http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/twelve_years_after_the_jd_20_percent_arent_practicing_law/#315395) about one of the bullets that you didn’t highlight:

    “The median remaining educational debt for the survey respondents in 2012 was $50,000, compared to $70,000 in 2003. Nearly 48 percent had no debt remaining in 2012, compared to only about 16 percent in 2003.”

    I guess I’d follow that up with a few questions/comments.

    1) What is the standard repayment plan? If it’s 10 years (or was when people finished back in 2000), what does it say that 50% still have more than $50k of debt?

    2) If 48% have no debt and 50% have over $50k of debt, there’s not really a middle ground. There are definite winners and losers there (not to say that everyone without debt at this point is a ‘winner’, but relatively so…)

    3) And reiterating my feeling that if students from 2000 are still carrying so much debt, you have to think it’s going to be far uglier in 2028 for those graduating today…

    1. Thanks for bringing that up any insights?. The other comments there are pretty contentious.

      To respond:

      (1) There’s nothing standard about the standard repayment plan.

      (2) There is a middle ground because the median figure is for those who have debt, i.e. the 48%. In 2003, the median with $70,000 was the 42nd percentile of the total. In 2012, the median with $50,000 was the 24th percentile of the total.

      (3) Yeah, but they’ll be a few scant years from their IBR cancellation and tax wipeout.

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