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.