Nearly 92 percent of 2007 law school graduates have jobs now, the highest reported figure in 20 years. And those who work at law firms are earning a median salary of $108,500 -- about $13,000 more than 2006 graduates were making when they started out.
Those figures come from an annual survey conducted by the National Association of Legal Career Professionals.
The huge jump in median starting salaries is a bit misleading. According to Judith Collins, NALP's research director and the author of the study, first-year salaries are highly polarized. About 16 percent of the surveyed grads earn $160,000 or more at big firms. But 38 percent are earning $55,000 or less. The polarization is consistent with past years; William Henderson, the law firm guru at the University of Indiana Law School, found a similar gap among 2006 graduates and worried that firms racing to pay escalating salaries for top-tier grads may run aground.
But 2008 is not 2007, and the high employment rate and salary jump will probably not continue this year, says James Leipold, NALP's executive director. The economic downturn had only just begun when the 2007 class accepted their first jobs, and the Am Law world was still enjoying a record economic year, despite the second-half slowdown.
"Last year marked the culmination of an unprecedented five-year run for the legal economy," Leipold says. "The fact that the class had a very robust placement rate is not surprising."
What will happen to this year's graduates is unclear, though a downturn is to be expected, he says. Still, firm recruiters say they plan to spend the same number of days on law school campuses, interviewing the same number of candidates as last year, Leipold says.