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What would it take to spark an employment recovery for law school graduates?

In simple economic terms, there are just two factors at play: the demand for new lawyers and the supply of graduates. The U.S. economy is still lagging, and the legal sector hasn’t improved either, so it’s understandable if law grads aren’t finding more and better jobs amid slack demand.

That leaves the supply side. If the number of graduates falls, then those remaining should have an easier time finding jobs, leaving fewer graduates unemployed. And even if poor demand for new attorneys limits the positions available to graduates, those who don’t find work as lawyers should be able to find it elsewhere. Like musical chairs, the fewer people who play, the fewer are left standing when the music stops. This is the glass-half-full prediction for law school graduates.

Unfortunately for graduates, the employment results for the class of 2015, which the American Bar Association officially released in May, tell a different story.

Excluding the three law schools in Puerto Rico, 3,772 fewer people graduated from ABA-accredited law schools in 2015, an 8.7 percent decline from 2014. Somewhat surprisingly, the number of graduates with jobs requiring a law degree fell by nearly 2,000, equivalent to more than half the difference in graduates between the two years. To some extent, this is due to lower bar exam passage rates. Another category that used to employ more graduates was law-school-funded jobs. Changes in the ABA’s definition of that category helped it fall by a third.

The number of graduates who were unemployed and not seeking work, looking for work or couldn’t be found dropped by nearly 500, which is about 13.1 percent of this year’s decline in graduates. Even so, 12.7 percent of graduates in both classes fall into these categories. Full-time, long-term jobs dominated the kinds of positions that vanished this year, in contrast to less consistent work.

Turning to the types of jobs that graduates found, jobs at firms with 50 or fewer lawyers dropped by 1,458 graduates compared with last year, two-thirds of them from two-to-10-lawyer firms. Many of these tiny firms might simply be graduates banding together, which nevertheless indicates an absence of stable work available. Hiring for business and industry positions fell by 890 graduates. Peculiarly, South Texas College of Law classified 96 of its graduates as employed without an employment type, and it couldn’t find another 93 graduates at all, which may offset some of the large decline in the business-and-industry employment type. Government and public interest jobs hired 700 fewer graduates as well.

As law schools admit more marginal applicants to offset dwindling enrollments, it’s understandable that more graduates are failing the bar and failing to find jobs as lawyers. Likewise, it makes sense that changes to the ABA’s definition of “long-term” for law-school-funded jobs reduces their number. Rather than pay their graduates $40,000 for a year, a handful of schools simply shifted a large number of their graduates to “short-term” funded positions and eliminated others altogether. As it stands, only a handful of elite law schools offer nearly all the full-time, long-term self-funded jobs requiring a law degree.

Left unexplained, however, is why more graduates didn’t find work in nonlaw fields. Declines in graduate hiring in J.D.-advantage jobs, professional jobs and nonprofessional jobs equaled 18.8 percent of the 3,772-graduate drop, 13.1 percent of which belong to the J.D.-advantage category. Shouldn’t graduates who don’t find work as lawyers or with their law schools have better luck with employers who value them for their legal educations?

One possible explanation is that many unemployed graduates are unwilling to settle for nonlaw jobs. It may appear admirable for graduates to hold out for work they’ve been trained to do, but it also indicates a reluctance to treat their legal educations as a sunk cost. And it’s unlikely that many will enter a stable career at the bar after 10 months without any work, especially since tens of thousands of new graduates will join them in only a few short months.

Alternatively, employers might be unwilling to hire graduates from some law schools no matter what their industry is. Indeed, the 20 law schools with the highest percentage of graduates seeking work account for nearly 30 percent of all such graduates, and nearly all of those schools had an unemployment rate above 20 percent. These schools may simply be selling a J.D. that isn’t at all versatile.

For their part, J.D.-advantage careers might take a different track from lawyer jobs starting at graduation day. Graduates established in such careers might forgo lawyer work completely. However, “J.D.-advantage” has always been a dubious term that includes jobs that may not benefit substantially from a law school education. The definitions for the ABA’s employment categories even identify a handful of J.D.-advantage career paths that bear only a slight relationship to law school: the FBI, accounting, human resources, journalism and teaching. Many candidates for J.D.-advantage positions would be better off seeking different training for these careers than law degrees.

Despite the collapse in law school applications since 2010, today’s smaller graduating classes are not finding an easier entry into the legal profession—and possibly into any profession at all. Undoubtedly, demand for lawyers is still a problem, but so is the continued structural oversupply of law students and law schools.

What would it take to spark an employment recovery for law school graduates?

In simple economic terms, there are just two factors at play: the demand for new lawyers and the supply of graduates. The U.S. economy is still lagging, and the legal sector hasn’t improved either, so it’s understandable if law grads aren’t finding more and better jobs amid slack demand.

That leaves the supply side. If the number of graduates falls, then those remaining should have an easier time finding jobs, leaving fewer graduates unemployed. And even if poor demand for new attorneys limits the positions available to graduates, those who don’t find work as lawyers should be able to find it elsewhere. Like musical chairs, the fewer people who play, the fewer are left standing when the music stops. This is the glass-half-full prediction for law school graduates.

Unfortunately for graduates, the employment results for the class of 2015, which the American Bar Association officially released in May, tell a different story.

Excluding the three law schools in Puerto Rico, 3,772 fewer people graduated from ABA-accredited law schools in 2015, an 8.7 percent decline from 2014. Somewhat surprisingly, the number of graduates with jobs requiring a law degree fell by nearly 2,000, equivalent to more than half the difference in graduates between the two years. To some extent, this is due to lower bar exam passage rates. Another category that used to employ more graduates was law-school-funded jobs. Changes in the ABA’s definition of that category helped it fall by a third.

The number of graduates who were unemployed and not seeking work, looking for work or couldn’t be found dropped by nearly 500, which is about 13.1 percent of this year’s decline in graduates. Even so, 12.7 percent of graduates in both classes fall into these categories. Full-time, long-term jobs dominated the kinds of positions that vanished this year, in contrast to less consistent work.

Turning to the types of jobs that graduates found, jobs at firms with 50 or fewer lawyers dropped by 1,458 graduates compared with last year, two-thirds of them from two-to-10-lawyer firms. Many of these tiny firms might simply be graduates banding together, which nevertheless indicates an absence of stable work available. Hiring for business and industry positions fell by 890 graduates. Peculiarly, South Texas College of Law classified 96 of its graduates as employed without an employment type, and it couldn’t find another 93 graduates at all, which may offset some of the large decline in the business-and-industry employment type. Government and public interest jobs hired 700 fewer graduates as well.

As law schools admit more marginal applicants to offset dwindling enrollments, it’s understandable that more graduates are failing the bar and failing to find jobs as lawyers. Likewise, it makes sense that changes to the ABA’s definition of “long-term” for law-school-funded jobs reduces their number. Rather than pay their graduates $40,000 for a year, a handful of schools simply shifted a large number of their graduates to “short-term” funded positions and eliminated others altogether. As it stands, only a handful of elite law schools offer nearly all the full-time, long-term self-funded jobs requiring a law degree.

Left unexplained, however, is why more graduates didn’t find work in nonlaw fields. Declines in graduate hiring in J.D.-advantage jobs, professional jobs and nonprofessional jobs equaled 18.8 percent of the 3,772-graduate drop, 13.1 percent of which belong to the J.D.-advantage category. Shouldn’t graduates who don’t find work as lawyers or with their law schools have better luck with employers who value them for their legal educations?

One possible explanation is that many unemployed graduates are unwilling to settle for nonlaw jobs. It may appear admirable for graduates to hold out for work they’ve been trained to do, but it also indicates a reluctance to treat their legal educations as a sunk cost. And it’s unlikely that many will enter a stable career at the bar after 10 months without any work, especially since tens of thousands of new graduates will join them in only a few short months.

Alternatively, employers might be unwilling to hire graduates from some law schools no matter what their industry is. Indeed, the 20 law schools with the highest percentage of graduates seeking work account for nearly 30 percent of all such graduates, and nearly all of those schools had an unemployment rate above 20 percent. These schools may simply be selling a J.D. that isn’t at all versatile.

For their part, J.D.-advantage careers might take a different track from lawyer jobs starting at graduation day. Graduates established in such careers might forgo lawyer work completely. However, “J.D.-advantage” has always been a dubious term that includes jobs that may not benefit substantially from a law school education. The definitions for the ABA’s employment categories even identify a handful of J.D.-advantage career paths that bear only a slight relationship to law school: the FBI, accounting, human resources, journalism and teaching. Many candidates for J.D.-advantage positions would be better off seeking different training for these careers than law degrees.

Despite the collapse in law school applications since 2010, today’s smaller graduating classes are not finding an easier entry into the legal profession—and possibly into any profession at all. Undoubtedly, demand for lawyers is still a problem, but so is the continued structural oversupply of law students and law schools.