(Photo by John Disney/Staff)

CHART: Jobs for Georgia Law Graduates; Employment rates by percentage for 2013 graduates of Georgia’s five ABA-accredited law schools.

The employment rate for Georgia’s 2013 law school graduates showed little improvement from 2012—except at Emory University, which offers job stipends—but it was well above the national average at four of the state’s five ABA-accredited law schools.

Only about two-thirds of the graduates landed full-time, long-term jobs requiring a law degree within nine months of graduating. But the rates at Emory University (83.6 percent), the University of Georgia (68.4 percent), Georgia State University (65.6 percent) and Mercer University (65.6 percent) topped the national average of 57 percent. At Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, it was 39.7 percent.

The employment rate increases by 10 percentage points or more when factoring in full-time, long-term jobs that don’t require a law degree: Emory’s jumps to 94.2 percent, UGA’s to 77.4 percent, GSU’s to 83.1 percent, Mercer’s to 73.2 percent and John Marshall’s to 65.4 percent.

Nationally, only 67.1 percent of 2013 graduates found full-time, long-term jobs, according to the American Bar Association’s employment data for 2013 law graduates, which it released last week. The ABA collects the data from the nation’s 198 ABA-accredited law schools.

Emory School of Law had the highest employment rate but the school provided funding to 21.2 percent of those who landed full-time, long-term legal jobs—62 of its 292 graduates.

The “bridge-the-gap” fellowships provide a yearlong stipend of $1,500 a month, which graduates used to obtain jobs with judges, public defenders and prosecutors, said Lydia Russo, Emory Law’s assistant dean for professional development and career strategy.

“It’s a way for graduates to get a foot in the door. In this market, that is so difficult,” she said, adding that many entry-level legal jobs now require a year of experience, creating a Catch-22 for new law graduates. Some public defender offices will hire for entry-level jobs only through bridge-the-gap programs, she said.

Many of the fellows are subsequently hired by the fellowship sponsor, Russo said. “When an opening occurs, they are first in the hiring attorney’s mind.”

“The overwhelming majority land a permanent position before the year is up. Only a handful [of 2013 graduates] are still in the program,” she added.

If stipend-supplemented jobs are factored out, Emory’s employment rate would drop from 94.2 percent to 72.9 percent for full-time, long-term jobs and from 83.6 percent to 62.3 percent for full-time, long-term jobs requiring a law degree. That would drop Emory from having the highest employment rate among Georgia’s law schools to fourth-highest.

Factoring out stipend-funded jobs, Emory’s overall employment rate of 72.9 percent for 2013 graduates was slightly lower than the 74.4 percent for 2012.

Stipend helps Emory’s rate

The job stipend and an increase in law graduates landing business jobs pushed up Emory’s overall employment rate by 13 percentage points, from 80.8 percent in 2012. The business jobs were in investment banking, finance, management consulting and technology, Russo said.

The number of graduates taking advantage of the bridge-to-practice stipend, which Russo said has been offered for about four years, more than tripled, from 17 to 62. The number landing business jobs doubled, from 20 to 40 (13.7 percent of graduates). None of the business jobs were supported by bridge-to-practice fellowships, Russo said.

GSU was the only law school besides Emory where the employment rate increased—by two percentage points, to 83 percent. “So there is some movement in the right direction,” said GSU Law’s director of career services, Vickie Brown. “Imagine if we had stipends. We would have no unemployed students.”

Brown attributed the school’s high overall job placement rate, which was second only to Emory, to the school’s low tuition. Tuition is $16,042 for in-state students, the lowest of the five Georgia law schools. (At UGA Law, the state’s other public law school, tuition and fees are $16,506. Emory, the most expensive of the five, charges $49,734 in tuition and fees.)

“Students are able to follow their passion and go into public service and government jobs,” Brown said.

At Emory, Russo said, students are asking for more programs and information on alternative careers to law. Career services deans at UGA and Mercer law schools also said students are more willing to look at jobs where a law degree is not required.

At UGA, 28 law graduates (12 percent) took business jobs, up from 15 in 2012.

“Students come in with different expectations now—and they often have broader career goals, which is good,” said Paul Rollins, UGA Law’s associate dean for administration. “They might ultimately find jobs they have more satisfaction with instead of the inertia that drags people into the largest law firms as a matter of course.”

“We’re definitely seeing a shift,” said Stephanie Powell, Mercer Law’s assistant dean for career services. Graduates are finding jobs where a law degree is not required but helpful, in areas such as compliance and consulting. For instance, someone might get a job at a tax advisory company instead of in a law firm’s tax practice, she said.

“Those kind of jobs do not necessarily require someone to take and pass the bar exam but a law degree is extremely important in getting them,” Powell said.

Mercer, like many law schools, has beefed up its career services staff to help students find jobs. In the last three years, Powell said, staff has increased from two to four and the law school has added an alumni liaison to enlist alumni in students’ job search. “They are out in the market. They can let us know about opportunities and help introduce us to people in those markets,” Powell said.

At GSU the number of law graduates with business jobs actually dropped to 27 (13.8 percent), from 36 the prior year.

Brown said that is because many students already have a job in business when they enroll. “We have a lot of nontraditional students in our part-time program. Some are in very lucrative positions. They want career advancement, not a job.”

Rather than find more business employers to hire people with law degrees, Brown wants to place more GSU students in larger firms and judicial clerkships. Last year 12 graduates won clerkships, double the number from 2013.

Jobs at firms decreasing

The percentage of the state’s law school graduates getting law firm jobs declined overall. While the number landing jobs at firms with more than 50 lawyers decreased, there was an increase in employment at smaller firms.

Emory was least affected by this trend. Almost half (46.9 percent) of its graduates found jobs at firms. That’s down slightly from 48.9 percent in 2012.

Of those, 64 (two fewer than in 2012) were hired by firms with more than 50 lawyers and 70 were at smaller firms (seven more than in 2012). Forty-five landed jobs at 500-lawyer or more firms.

“Large law firms continue to recruit from Emory. Atlanta and New York are our two largest markets,” Russo said.

At UGA, 37.6 percent of graduates found law firm jobs, down from 42.4 percent in 2012. Of those, only 22 were at firms with more than 50 lawyers (down from 49 in 2012), and 55 were at smaller firms (up from 47).

There are fewer entry-level associate jobs at firms, said UGA’s Rollins. “There is more lateral hiring and summer programs that lead to permanent jobs after graduation are smaller,” he said. “Firms are gun-shy after the recession about making a long-term commitment to entry-level associates and they are using more contract attorneys so they can grow and shrink.”

On a positive note, Rollins said that summer hiring appears to be picking up. The 2L class “is having a little easier time finding summer employment,” he said. “We’re hoping that 2014 will shape up to be better than 2013, which was about the same as 2012.”

At Mercer, 45.9 percent of graduates landed jobs at firms, down from 54.2 percent. At GSU, 42 percent found law firm jobs, down from 43.7 percent.

At John Marshall it was 37.6 percent, down from 41.2 percent. That included 17 graduates (7.3 percent) who opened their own shops, up from 14 in 2012.

But law school graduates are not rushing to hang out their own shingle in response to the dearth of jobs at firms. Only two Emory and two UGA graduates went solo, along with one Mercer graduate and eight GSU graduates—fewer than in 2012.

“We definitely don’t have many folks going that route,” Rollins of UGA said.

In one bright spot, Georgia law school graduates reported lower unemployment than the national average of 11.2 percent, with Emory at 1 percent, UGA at 8.5 percent, GSU at 4.6 percent, Mercer at 7 percent and John Marshall at 5.1 percent.