Law School: Now Effective 68% Of The Time

So you’re thinking about going to law school. Maybe you’re a true believer, want to help people, or have a purposeful life. On the other hand, maybe you’ve been told by a family member that you’d make a great lawyer someday. Or maybe you’re just looking for a professional career that pays well. No matter what your motivation, there are some things you should know about attending law school right now.

As reported by the ABA Journal’s Debra Cassens Weiss:

Only 68.4 percent of 2010 grads were able to land a job requiring bar passage, the lowest percentage since the legal career professionals group NALP began collecting statistics.

Another 10.7 percent have jobs that don’t require bar passage but prefer or require a JD, while 8.6 percent are employed in other capacities, according to a press release (PDF). The statistics are based on jobs held nine months after graduation for those whose employment status is known.

The classes of 2009 and 2008 had higher percentages of jobs requiring bar passage, at 70.8 percent and 74.7 percent respectively.

Overall the employment rate for 2010 grads is 87.6 percent, the lowest percentage since 1996 when the rate was 87.4 percent. Only 71 percent of the jobs were both full-time and permanent, according to an analysis (PDF) by NALP executive director James Leipold.

And not to sound like an infommercial but, wait there’s more:

• Only 50.9 percent of the 2010 law grads had jobs in private practice, compared to a range of 55 percent to 58 percent of grads with private practice jobs in prior years reaching back to 1993.

• Employment in business was at 15.1 percent, the highest that NALP has ever measured. About 32 percent of these jobs required bar passage, and about 29 percent were jobs preferring a law degree.

• The percentage of 2010 law grads who had private practice jobs in large law firms of at least 501 attorneys was 20.5 percent, compared to 25.6 percent for the Class of 2009.

Now I’m no curmudgeon, but these numbers are concerning to say the least. Are they accurate? Some of the comments following the ABA Journal article question whether these numbers may even be somewhat inflated!

Now before you tear up those law school applications, let’s take a brief moment to reflect upon what this survey does not say:

  • It does not say that only sixty-eight percent or all 2010 grads were able to land a job requiring bar passage, only sixty-eight percent of respondents.
  • It does not say that only sixty-eight percent of respondents are employed.

However, it does seem to indicate that it’s getting harder and harder to find a legal job. But you shouldn’t need this survey to tell you that it’s a terrible time to go to law school:

  • Number of law students who graduate annually:45,000
  • Decrease in the size of the legal profession since 2007:  7.8%
  • Typical starting salary, if you can actually get a job at a law firm: $40,000+
  • Average law school debt: $100,000
  • Increase in the number of students taking the LSAT since 2007: 20.5%
  • Increase in the number of law schools in the last ten years: 9%

So what’s the issue? Is it a lack of law school transparency? It seems to me that the writing is on the wall. Is it a reflection the recession? As one comment noted:

This has nothing to do with the recession. At best, the recession exacerbated the bleeding out of the profession. What we are seeing a slow collapse, a market correction of overproduction, poor regulations and short sighted policies by the powers that be (looking at you ABA).

But can we chalk this up to poor regulation? It seems to me that at some point, prospective law school students need to take some accountability. The headlines are in:

There aren’t enough legal jobs to support the number of graduates from law school.

Just like many other professional degrees (and if anyone has numbers on other post-graduate degree job placement, please share), getting your JD doesn’t guarantee you a legal job. In fact, it doesn’t even guarantee that you actually become a lawyer by successfully passing the bar exam.

Despite the gloom and doom tone with which this post will likely be perceived, my purpose truly isn’t to persuade you one way or another about attending law school. It’s simply to help you think about this important decision.

At some point, prospective law school students need to recognize the realities of attending law school, stop blaming the ABA, law schools, and whoever else they can, and take some accountability for their choices. Okay, there I said it.


  1. Avatar Wade Coye says:

    It’s good that you don’t leave this post to the “doom and gloom” atmosphere, but make it a call to action. Regardless of how situations may seem, the most important thing is to not make decisions (which can leave you at $100,000 in debt) up to chance or happenstance.

    As for numbers and statistics, New York Times released that article about a month or two ago, which said that student loans and debt had surpassed credit card debt in America for the first time, breaching the trillions of dollars. Scary stuff. Hopefully it really does go to the best.

  2. Wade, thanks for the comment. Was this article to which you were referring?
    (not sure what the effect of paywall will be on this link for readers).

  3. Avatar Adam says:

    I’m not sure if this article was intended the way I read it, but is seems to say “buck up and realize you’re to blame”. If that is the intent, I can only say that in fall 2006 (when my class – 2010 – applied and accepted admission) I heard no accusations of fraudulent employment data, the reports looked good, and everyone seemed to agree that law school was a pretty good idea. The warning of the terrible market didn’t exist for us at the front end, so I hope you mean that prospective students will only have themselves to hold accountable if the decision turns out to be a bad one.

    • Thanks for the comment Adam. My purpose really wasn’t to blame at all. Further, 2006 was entirely different world for a lot of sectors, including the legal profession.

      I also didn’t intend to imply that lawyers having a difficult time with employment should merely “buck up.”

      More than anything, my intention was to add one more voice to the cacophony of voices encouraging prospective law school students to consider the realities of the legal profession today.

      I am sympathetic to anyone who feels misled, cheated, or lied to. However, at this point, in my humble opinion, it’s simply not reasonable for applicants to claim ignorance.

      Our society’s “romantic” view of going to law school, becoming a lawyer, and making a lot of money, must end.

  4. Avatar BigLaw Alum says:

    As long as you went to a T14 or one of the top 25/30 schools in a major market, that is probably correct. However, if you chose to go to a school that has notoriously bad placement rates (T3, T4, or even the bad-placing T1 schools like UMaryland, UConn, UMinn, Wisconsin, etc.), then you really have no right to complain. You had a pretty dismal chance at biglaw even in the boom times.

  5. Avatar Adam says:

    Gyi – I agree that those starting now will have no one to blame, though I find the conduct of the schools and the ABA pretty appalling. I guess my misunderstanding was that you were talking about prospective (future) students, yet saying they should (presently) stop blaming others.

    BigLaw – I never wanted biglaw, though my school has been ranked for all relevant years in the 30-35 range and is near a major metro area. I just wanted a job in a nice little 5-10 person firm. As it stands, I’ll be starting my own firm, and I’ll see if I can build it into that 5-10 person firm over the next few (or ten) years.

  6. Avatar Paul N. says:


    I’ve had an idea on how we, the legal community, can reform law school (at least in part). Lobby Congress to adopt a minimum LSAT requirement (say 154) in order to qualify for a federally backed student loan for law school. The idea being, there’s a strong correlation between LSAT scores and Bar passage rates. At a certain point, a person’s LSAT score makes it more-likely-then-not that they’ll pass. The Feds don’t have an interest in giving money to people who are statistically likely to either fail out or fail the bar. I believe the vast majority of student loans for law school are federally backed. I fleshed out the idea a little more on my blog. What do you guys think? As far as I can tell, no one has suggested this yet.

Leave a Reply