This story has been corrected to reflect that The University of Chicago Law School placed the highest percentage of 2016 graduates in full-time, long-term jobs that require bar passage and were not funded by the schools themselves. An earlier version of the story was based on an incorrect calculation.
The University of Chicago Law School sent a higher percentage of 2016 graduates into law jobs than any other school, according to new employment data from the American Bar Association.
More than 93 percent Chicago’s 215 graduates last year found full-time, long-term jobs that require a bar passage and were not funded by the school itself—widely considered the gold standard of entry-level law jobs—within 10 months of leaving campus.
Close on Chicago’s heels were Duke Law School and the Columbia Law School, both with 92 percent of 2016 graduate in such jobs. The University of Michigan and Cornell Law School rounded out the top five at 91 percent and 90 percent, respectively.
Every member of Duke’s law community pitches in to help students find jobs, said associate dean of career and professional development Bruce Elvin. The school’s relatively small size means students receive individual attention—all first-years are required to meet with career services advisers at least three times during the year to lay the groundwork for their job search.
“Everybody is committed to helping each student launch his or her career in the right job,” Elvin said. “It’s the dean. It’s faculty. It’s alumni. It’s staff. It’s friends. It’s students helping each other.”
Overall, the entry-level job market was a mixed bag for the class of 2016, the ABA data shows. The number of students in full-time, long-term legal jobs increased from 59.2 percent for the class of 2015 to 61.8 percent for the class of 2016.
Yet the actual number of those jobs fell by more than 4 percent—a decline of more than 1,000 from the previous year. The only reason the employment rate increased was because there were 2,860 fewer 2016 graduates on the job market. This marks the third straight year that the declining number of law graduates propped up the employment rate when the number of law jobs actually declined.
The percentage of 2016 graduates in full-time, long-term jobs that require either a law degree or for which a J.D. offers an advantage and were not funded by the schools themselves also rose to 72.5 percent from 70 percent the previous year. Yet again, the actual number of those combined positions decreased by 4 percent.
The University of Pennsylvania Law School had the highest percentage of 2016 graduates in either bar-passage required or J.D. advantage jobs, at 96 percent. “We’re very pleased our 2016 graduates, like their cohorts in recent years, did so well securing employment in law firms, public interest organizations, judicial clerkships, government and in rewarding ‘JD Advantage’ fields like investment banking and consulting,” said Penn Law Dean Theodore Ruger.
It’s not entirely clear why legal employers are hiring fewer new law graduates, but declining bar pass rates are likely a factor, concluded University of St. Thomas School of Law professor Jerome Organ and Pepperdine University School of Law professor Derek Muller, both of whom track and blog about employment trends.
“Part of the continuing decline in the number of graduates in full-time, long-term bar passage required positions is attributable to the decline in the number and percentage of graduates passing the July bar exam,” Organ wrote in a post on Tax Prof Blog.
The percentage of law graduates from ABA-accredited schools who passed the July bar exam on their first try fell from 82 percent in 2013 to 74 percent in 2016, Organ noted. Falling bar pass rates equates to fewer recent graduates who are eligible for bar-passage required jobs within the 10-month time frame that the ABA tracks.
But Muller believes there is more going on to suppress the legal industry’s appetite for hiring fresh law graduates. Declining bar pass rate alone can’t explain the 12 percent drop in new lawyer jobs over the past three years, he said.
Some employers may be reluctant to hire students below a certain class rank or from outside a select number of schools, even though the decline in law school enrollment has left fewer students in those pools, Muller wrote on his blog Excess of Democracy. He analyzed jobs data from the past three years and found that the two categories of employment that saw the steepest hiring declines were solo practitioners and small firms with two to 10 lawyers.
“It may be that we’re seeing fewer people exit the legal working force, either because they’re postponing retirement or some other reason,” Muller said May 12. “Some firms may be transferring legal services they used to give to entry-level attorneys to nonattorneys. Some might simply be doing the same with less.”
The new ABA data also highlights the growing divide between the elite schools with strong job placement rates and lower-ranked schools struggling to help their graduates secure employment. When looking only at full-time, long-term bar passage required jobs, the top 20 schools had employment rates of 78 percent and higher. But 49 of the 201 ABA-accredited law schools had rates of 50 percent or lower for those jobs.
At 33 schools, at least 30 percent of 2016 graduates were considered underemployed—either unemployed, in nonprofessional jobs such as a barista at Starbucks, or in positions that were either short term or part time.
Charlotte School of Law had the single highest rate of unemployed 2016 graduates, at 31 percent. High unemployment is but one of the struggling school’s problems, after the the U.S. Department of Education pulled its access to federal student loans in December due to accreditation shortcomings tied to its admissions policies. Charlotte was followed by Southwestern Law School and Thomas Jefferson School of Law, both at 29 percent. Nationwide, nearly 9 percent of 2016 graduates were unemployed 10 months after leaving campus, down 1 percent from the previous year.
The number of jobs funded by law schools themselves declined by more than a quarter, from 1,037 in 2015 to 760 in 2016, according to the ABA data. School-funded jobs have declined each of the past three years, in part because U.S. News & World Report began giving them less weight in the employment category of their influential annual law school rankings. The University of California, Davis School of Law had the highest percentage of 2016 in school-funded jobs, at nearly 14 percent.
Almost 9 percent of 2016 law graduates secured federal, state or local clerkships, the ABA data show. Yale Law School sent the highest percentage of graduates into federal clerkships— considered the most prestigious—at 34 percent. Stanford Law School was next with 25 percent of graduates clerking for federal judges, while 19 percent of Harvard Law School graduates landed those positions.
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ