Law School Employment Data: One Student at a Time

While the blogosphere hums with charges and counter-charges about the reliability of law school employment reports, there has been little discussion of how the information is collected. Inquiring minds ought to know how this works.

Student-to-professional ratios in career services offices

Here is a quick review of student-to-professional ratios in NALP member-law school career offices from the soon-to-be published Law School Career Services Survey 2011. This biennial survey covers salaries, education levels, and staffing, job responsibilities, and more.

One survey section is # of JD Students Per Full-time Professional Staff, which doesn’t account for either administrative tasks or work with alumni. It shows that the average career services officer (CSO) is responsible for 251 students, and 40.3 percent of CSOs have more than 251 students under their wings.

  • Fewer than 175 students: 25.8%
  • 175-250 students: 33.9%
  • 251-325 students: 18.5%
  • 326 + students: 21.8%

While it may be petty and mean-spirited to point out that budget advantages have accrued to law schools with historically lean CSO staffing, in this troubled market there are now quantifiable consequences for students and alumni who want and need help. With most CSOs responsible for 200 or more students, delivering services becomes a challenge to the space-time continuum.

December to February

CSOs would rather help students and grads, but between December and February, they must devote thousands of hours to completing the annual employment survey which they report to Deans and to NALP for its annual Jobs & JDs: Employment and Salaries of New Graduates, to USNews, to the ABA in a slightly different format, and, for those not following the news, to a set of yet-to-be-named committees and  institutions which will likely ask for other data sets.

Most CSOs would agree that 90% of their time is spent tracking down 20% of the class. This is sad, because from a CSO perspective, the only bad news from grads is no news. The more grads who report their job status promptly, the more time that CSOs have to spend helping anyone who is unemployed.

Willful refusenicks who dodge surveys and avoid the outreach outlined below are robbing their classmates who would like to work with their career counselors.

Without the power of “mandatory”

It is the rare Dean who conditions certification to the bar on a mandatory a face-to-face CSO exit interview in which a student fills out an employment survey with the counselor looking on. Lacking the power of “mandatory,” the vast majority of CSOs will be engaged most of these activities during the next few months:

1.  Reviewing Surveys (paper or electronic) sent out:

  • November of third year
  • February of third year
  • March of third year
  • At graduation
  • After bar results
  • January after graduation

2.  Making phone calls and sending email to individual alumni:

  • After July bar results
  • Throughout the fall and into January after bar results
  • In February before the NALP and ABA reporting deadlines

3.  Making phone calls to parents from information gleaned from students’ admissions files (five calls including one on Super Bowl Sunday may finally get a result)

4.  Offering Rewards

  • A prize lottery for returning a survey
  • A prize for reporting on fellow alumni
  • A prize for reporting on someone whose name appears on a “list of the lost” on bulletin boards, on class-year-email lists, and distributed to faculty and staff
  • Collecting business cards at bar admission breakfasts and having a prize drawing

5.  Sending email to faculty and staff to solicit information about “unknowns”

6.  Reviewing Bar Exam Files and Bar Association Records for contact information

  • Reviewing registrar records to determine which – if any—bar exams a student applied to take
  • Checking Bar and Court records in multiple states after bar results are announced
  • Checking bar association memberships (works best in mandatory bar states)

7.  Reviewing Alumni Office files (requires individual review and a good-to-great relationship with alumni relations — not always the case)

8.  Conducting electronic people searches

  • Hometown newspaper searches (sourced from registrar files and contacts)
  • Internet searches (Google)
  • Social networking sites including Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Google+

9.  Reconciling career services records, registrar records, and reports to the ABA documenting each graduate’s employment status. These lists are often out of sync is because there are always people who:

  • “graduated” two years ago with an one incomplete which was finished in time for the February 2011 bar, whose graduates are reported in the current reporting cycle;
  • Transferred in but were not correctly connected to career services;
  • Came as a 2L visiting student but stayed on as a transfer;
  • Completed coursework in July 2010, and sat for the February 2011 bar and will now be counted in this reporting cycle;
  • Joint degree student(s) who finished their “other” coursework two to five years after their JD class, and are now included in this reporting cycle

But what happens to the data?

Few law schools allocate additional resources to this effort so data collection and data entry take time from individual student and alumni counseling, employer outreach, and program planning. Most schools use Symplicity, and some use both spreadsheets and Symplicity to record information for each graduate like this:

  1. Enter data from employment survey responses. To ensure accuracy for the NALP ERSS, they will follow NALP’s instructions and definitions and will all review the draft of NALP’s Best Practices Guide to Managing Law School Employment Outcomes.  To ensure accuracy for the upcoming ABA report, they will follow the slightly different instructions in its proposed 11-page instruction sheet.

  2. Review the data entered to ensure accuracy of all of the details, which is critical because  a surprising number of grads do not know how many lawyers are in their offices and firms, the correct spelling of their judge’s last name, the correct name for their fellowships or the precise location of their clerkships. The survey is in small type. The employment status question has 8 parts, and the 10-part employer information question has this introduction:


  1. For information gathered outside of a survey, they will enter notes in the graduate’s record about how the information was obtained, recording the dates and times of each phone conversation, and cutting and pasting full texts of email into the notes section of Symplicity.

  2. Record every failed attempt to contact each graduate, including dates/times of phone calls, and entering full texts of emails sent.

So what?

Leanly staffed and without the power of “mandatory” to extract information from alumni, CSOs do what they can with the tools that they have. Unhappy deans and administrators might want to consider how they might better support their CSOs.

Grads of the class of 2011: Report Now!

(photo: Shutterstock)


  1. Avatar Brandi Bennett says:

    I’ve recently engaged in a long conversation with the Dean of Alumni after reading all the NYT articles and experiencing the difficulties of the job market as I’m between jobs.

    The discussion has centered on a lot of things, including legal education, but it has also centered on the poor work of the career services staff at my law school and what they need to do to improve. Surveys are the absolute least of it, in my opinion. They need to do a better job expanding their reach beyond their region and working with businesses for alternative careers. Fact of the matter is, only 50% or so (at my law school) are going into the traditional practice of law and more and more attorneys are going into alternative professional positions and I’m afraid that may be a change that’s here to stay with the current restructuring and slowdown of the industry.

    • Avatar Susan Gainen says:

      Good morning, Brandi —

      As it happens, I know something about searches for Alternative Careers for law students, and I also know that career professionals everywhere would be delighted to be the “go to” spot for students and grads who might be searching for those jobs.

      There are some structural problems with everyone’s desire to make those connections. The reality is this:

      If you are a Human Resources Professional in a financial institution seeking entry level finance persons, you can post a job at any business school and get hundreds of Qualified Candidates with every posting. Should you post that job at law school, you will get dozens or hundreds of Interested Applicants and the rare Qualified Candidates. You must, however, act on each of these applications at a significant cost to your department’s budget.

      Should you, as the HR person, continue to make those postings, generating a lot of work and a significant amount of disappointed applicants, eventually, your boss will say “If you continue to post these jobs at law schools, generating much work, costing much money, and making unqualified candidates unhappy with our brand, I will fire you.”

      That, in a nutshell, explains why non-law jobs are rarely posted at law schools.

      With choices ranging from Arbitrator to Zoo Director, the search for an alternative career is very individual, very personal, and very time-consuming for each candidate.

      Career services staff are eager to help, but not staffed enough to contact hundreds of potential employers on behalf of candidates with a wide variety of interests and, often, without the requisite training and experience. Persuading an employer to consider a law-trained person for a job without the title “lawyer” isn’t a random proposition. It requires an individual candidate with a particular story showing transferable skills and out-side-of-law training that can be made persuasive to a unique employer with a specific job opening.

      Staffing levels of 250-or-more-to-1 in career services offices may have been a budget boon for law school deans in the so-called “good times.” That career services offices are not staffed to provide more assistance to students and alumni in the lean times is an issue that needs to be directed to deans.

      • Avatar Susan Gainen says:

        Brandi —

        My previous comment is not meant to discourage you or your classmates from consulting your career professionals about alternative careers so long as you understand that there is no app on Harry Potter’s Wand or Secret Job Drawer with dozens of jobs in them.

        What career services folks can provide is:

        1. A sounding board (“Is this a crazy idea?” “Probably not? and if not you, then who?”);
        2. A link to other law-trained folks who have taken alternative paths;
        3. Structure for you to conduct your search, which begins with appropriate self assessment that may steer you toward an appropriate industry, job category or job title. Why is this the most critical step? Should you begin applying for “a job — any job,” your focus will be all over the place or non-existent. Three questions that will help you are:

        a. What kind of a problem solver am I?
        b. What kind of problem to I want to solve?
        c. Who (or what) can pay me to solve the problem?

        Questions a and b need to be answered in tandem before you go after the jobs question (c). Otherwise you will be in this unfocused metaphorical space:

        Should I give you $1000 and three hours in the Mall of America, who knows what you will buy? Should I give you the same $1000 and three hours at MOA and the instruction to come back with a blue interview suit, we know that you will have something to wear by the end of the day. Will it have pants or a skirt? Dark blue? Light blue? Stripes? Plaid?(I hope not)? Will you buy a shell or a turtle neck? Big Accessories? High-heeled boots? Who knows?

        The point is that it is much easier to find something if you know what you are seeking.

        1. Prep for the interviews in which you will have to explain what you know about the prospective employer’s business, how your legal training and experience can help to solve the business problems (the language of “transferable skills”), why you in particular are different from all of the jerk lawyers that the employer has encountered in her entire life (they sit on your shoulders in the interview), and how you understand that you are applying to for is “strategic policy analyst” and not “lawyer,” because the employer already has a general counsel.

        Your career services professionals can walk you through the tricky parts of those interviews,including coaching you NOT to say “Pick me! I’m a lawyer!” when that is always the most inappropriate thing to say. You will need to make your lawyer-self apparent, while balancing your explanation of the benefits of hiring a law-trained person into that “not-the-lawyer” job.

  2. Avatar Brian says:

    Dear Ms. Gainen, I have no idea why you linked to my blog as an example of a “counter-charge” concerning law school employment statistics. You must have never actually read it. I’ve written for years about the utter unreliability of the statistics schools report and US News publishes–“works of the imagination” I dubbed them a decade ago. Please correct the error.

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