Month: April 2019

CLASS OF 2018 EMPLOYMENT REPORT: About the Same

Good morning, folks! Law-school-employment data are in, and before there’s a revision, this post will depict what they show. As with last year, I’m going to start with the headline information and save the law-school-level ranking of shame for later.

To begin with, here’s the table of graduate underemployment. (Everything on this post excludes the three Puerto Rico law schools.)

STATUS (EXCL. P.R.) 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Unemployed – Not Seeking 1,245 1,014 939 795 553 494 469 441 387
Unemployed – Seeking 2,686 4,016 4,770 5,060 4,103 3,744 3,142 2,610 2,348
Status Unknown 1,458 1,453 1,073 979 841 766 557 437 444
Total Grads 43,526 43,735 45,757 46,112 43,195 39,423 36,619 34,393 33,751
Unemployed – Not Seeking 2.9% 2.3% 2.1% 1.7% 1.3% 1.3% 1.3% 1.3% 1.1%
Unemployed – Seeking 6.2% 9.2% 10.4% 11.0% 9.5% 9.5% 8.6% 7.6% 7.0%
Status Unknown 3.3% 3.3% 2.3% 2.1% 1.9% 1.9% 1.5% 1.3% 1.3%
Total Percent 12.4% 14.8% 14.8% 14.8% 12.7% 12.7% 11.4% 10.1% 9.4%

As with the last few years, overall underemployment fell faster than the number of graduates. The rate of decline appears to be slowing, which isn’t good, but it’s still progress.

On the reverse side, 69.2 percent of graduates found full-time long-term work in bar-passage-required jobs. Last year, that figure was 67.0 percent, so it’s a two-percent jump. In three years, the percentage has risen by 6.7 points, which is quite notable. However, the rate of improvement appears to be slowing, even if the actual number of graduates finding these jobs rose by 300.

So what’s different this year? Let’s take a look at the analytic tables that compare this year to last year.

EMPLOYMENT STATUS NO. OF GRADS GRADS PCT. OF TOTAL PCT. CHANGE IN GRADS DISTRIBUTION OF CHANGE IN GRADS GINI COEFFICIENT
2017 2018 2017 2018 2018 2018 2017 2018
Employed – Bar Passage Required 23,936 23,922 69.6% 70.9% -0.1% 2.2% 0.34 0.34
Employed – JD Advantage 4,027 4,018 11.7% 11.9% -0.2% 1.4% 0.38 0.37
Employed – Professional Position 1,091 991 3.2% 2.9% -9.2% 15.6% 0.54 0.55
Employed – Non-Professional Position 399 346 1.2% 1.0% -13.3% 8.3% 0.55 0.63
Employed – Law School 604 515 1.8% 1.5% -14.7% 13.9% 0.79 0.80
Employed – Undeterminable 23 32 0.1% 0.1% 39.1% -1.4% 0.92 0.90
Employed – Pursuing Graduate Degree 535 480 1.6% 1.4% -10.3% 8.6% 0.52 0.55
Unemployed – Start Date Deferred 290 268 0.8% 0.8% -7.6% 3.4% 0.58 0.58
Unemployed – Not Seeking 441 387 1.3% 1.1% -12.2% 8.4% 0.52 0.53
Unemployed – Seeking 2,610 2,348 7.6% 7.0% -10.0% 40.8% 0.43 0.42
Employment Status Unknown 437 444 1.3% 1.3% 1.6% -1.1% 0.66 0.71
Total Graduates 34,393 33,751 100.0% 100.0% -1.9% 100.0% 0.29 0.30
EMPLOYMENT TYPE NO. OF GRADS GRADS PCT. OF TOTAL PCT. CHANGE IN GRADS DISTRIBUTION OF CHANGE IN GRADS GINI COEFFICIENT
2017 2018 2017 2018 2018 2018 2017 2018
Solo 438 368 1.3% 1.1% -16.0% 10.9% 0.58 0.59
2-10 5,771 5,485 16.8% 16.3% -5.0% 44.5% 0.33 0.34
11-25 1,694 1,731 4.9% 5.1% 2.2% -5.8% 0.42 0.41
26-50 998 1,050 2.9% 3.1% 5.2% -8.1% 0.45 0.45
51-100 800 850 2.3% 2.5% 6.3% -7.8% 0.48 0.46
101-250 977 1,016 2.8% 3.0% 4.0% -6.1% 0.51 0.48
251-500 1,003 957 2.9% 2.8% -4.6% 7.2% 0.64 0.63
501-PLUS 4,611 4,777 13.4% 14.2% 3.6% -25.9% 0.77 0.76
Unknown 96 99 0.3% 0.3% 3.1% -0.5% 0.85 0.87
Business Industry 4,149 3,841 12.1% 11.4% -7.4% 48.0% 0.36 0.36
Government 4,132 4,101 12.0% 12.2% -0.8% 4.8% 0.32 0.33
Public Interest 1,618 1,679 4.7% 5.0% 3.8% -9.5% 0.48 0.48
Federal Clerkship 1,171 1,190 3.4% 3.5% 1.6% -3.0% 0.69 0.69
State/Local Clerkship 2,048 2,130 6.0% 6.3% 4.0% -12.8% 0.58 0.58
Other Clerkship 25 27 0.1% 0.1% 8.0% -0.3% 0.92 0.95
Education 481 462 1.4% 1.4% -4.0% 3.0% 0.48 0.52
Unknown Employer Type 66 70 0.2% 0.2% 6.1% -0.6% 0.91 0.90
Total Employed by Type 30,078 29,833 87.5% 88.4% -0.8% 38.2% 0.31 0.31

In ’18, there were 642 fewer graduates than in 2017, a decline of 1.9 percent. By comparison, last year I reported a drop of 6.1 percent. Because the change in graduates is mild this year it’s not so easy to pick apart the data to identify clear trends. Nevertheless, the three biggest employment statuses contributing to the decline were: Unemployed – Seeking (40.8%), Employed – Professional Position (15.6%), and Employed – Law School (13.9%). The total here is 70.2 percent.

Changes among the employment types accounted for just 38.2 percent of the 642 fewer graduates, and the categories are quite polarized. Business Industry (+48%), 2-10-lawyer practices (+44.5%), State/Local Clerkship (-12.8%), and 501-plus-lawyer firms (-25.9%). That is to say, Business Industry jobs fell and clerkships rose, etcetera.

Here’s a link to my discussion of what Gini coefficients mean. They vary little year by year, so there’s not much of a reason to discuss them beyond the disgustingly out-of-reach federal clerkships.

Editorial: This year’s employment report is the first in a while that was a bit muddy because the graduate crash is leveling off. Still, it appears more grads were able to find jobs, those jobs were better overall, and law-firm jobs are shifting away from smaller practices to much larger ones. These are good trends in principle. Mostly though, I would hesitate to read too much into an employment report that differs so little from last year’s.

Similar editions of this post from prior years can be found here:

W&S Lawyer Employment Rises in 2018, Incomes Flat

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) usually completes its updates of its many measures of occupational employment for the previous year by April. Data for 2018 are now available, allowing a comprehensive summary of lawyer employment for that year. For detailed discussion of what the BLS datasets are and how they address lawyer employment, I recommend the lawyer overproduction page [updated!].

For context, according to the Current Population Survey (CPS), the number of people who reported working as lawyers in 2018 grew 5 percent to 1,199,000 (+62,000 people). The CPS also estimated 853,000 people working as lawyers on a wage or salary basis, a 9 percent rise from the previous year (+72,000 lawyers). By contrast, the more accurate Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program found that the number of wage-and-salary lawyers grew by 2 percent last year to 642,750 (+14,380 jobs). The number of employee lawyers in the legal sector also grew by 2 percent to 397,620 (+8,950).

Employee lawyers’ incomes were pretty much flat in 2018. The OES showed a -1 percent median hourly wage decline after adjusting for inflation, but the CPS registered no real change at all. Going by the OES, the last peak for lawyers’ earnings was 2009 (~$125,000 annually); incomes are about 9 percent lower (-$10,940) in real dollars since then. Here is an annualized dispersion.

These lawyer employment and income measures are not strong bellwethers for the value of legal education because they include many established lawyers and don’t measure recent graduate outcomes particularly well, especially those of graduates who do not promptly start careers in law. Readers seeking insight into that topic are instead advised to look at my criteria for predicting improvements in law graduate outcomes and the lawyer production page for a clear discussion of the BLS’s Employment Projections program.

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Prior editions of this post: