The employment picture for new law graduates improved in 2017, marking the fourth straight year that a higher percentage of fresh J.D.s found legal jobs.
More than three-quarters of the class of 2017—75.3 percent—secured full-time, permanent jobs that require bar passage or jobs for which a law degree offers an advantage, within 10 months of leaving campus, according to new national figures released Friday by the American Bar Association. That’s up from 72.6 percent from the previous graduating class.
But like the previous three years, that employment gain resulted from a significantly smaller pool of law graduates entering the job market, not from growth in the number of entry-level legal jobs. Slightly fewer than 35,000 people graduated from ABA-accredited law schools in 2017. That’s a nearly 6 percent decline from the more than 37,000 law graduates in 2016.
The biggest gains were among traditional attorney jobs for which bar admission is required. The actual number of those jobs increased from the previous year, albeit slightly. Nearly 69 percent of 2017 law graduates found those jobs, up from 64.5 percent in 2016.
The percentage of graduates in full-time, long-term bar pass required jobs—which are often viewed as the gold standard for law jobs, and the positions most sought after—went from 61.8 percent in 2016 to 66.2 percent in 2017, a 4.4 percent increase.
Jobs for which a law degree offers an advantage did not see similar growth, however. Just 11.8 percent of 2017 graduates landed in those positions within 10 months, down from 14.1 percent the previous year, according to the ABA. In actual numbers, there were 1,100 fewer J.D.-advantage jobs reported.
That decline is notable in that law schools have increasingly been marketing the versatility of a law degree and pitching J.D. advantage jobs as new employment avenues. Many jobs in the growing realm of legal technology are billed as J.D. advantage positions.
On a positive note, 2017 saw a 15 percent decrease in the number of new law graduates who were unemployed and still looking for work 10 months after leaving campus. That cohort accounted for 7.9 percent of all recent graduates, compared to nearly 9 percent the previous year.