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For the first time in a decade, better than nine out of 10 law grads landed jobs within six months of earning their degrees last year, according to a report released last month by the National Association for Law Placement. But perhaps an even more vivid indication of the robust legal market is the earnings reported by members of the Class of 1999. According to NALP, the median starting annual salary for the most recent crop of law grads working in full-time positions rose to $50,000, up 10 percent from 1998. Figures released by New England law schools show equal, if not greater, gains. “It’s a good time to be a lawyer,” declared Diane C. Ballou, director of career services at Quinnipiac University School of Law. This year, the Hamden, Conn.-based law school registered its highest placement rate since the late 1980s; 96.1 percent of its 1999 grads were employed as of Feb. 15, 2000, according to Ballou. The placement rate for the Class of 1998 was 94.5 percent, Ballou said. Of those employed, 79.4 percent, she noted, were using their degrees in jobs directly related to the practice of law, up from 75.3 percent the year before. At Western New England College School of Law in Springfield, Mass., the percentage of 1999 law grads employed in legal positions jumped to 72 percent from 68 percent the year before, said Assistant Dean and Director of Career Services Charlene M. Allen. Like Quinnipiac, western New England has a part-time program that tends to attract students already employed in non-legal jobs who use their law degrees to gain internal advancements, Allen noted. Overall, western New England’s placement rate dipped slightly to 86 percent, Allen conceded. That drop, however, was offset by the higher percentage of 1999 grads seeking to further their education, she maintained. Accounting for those grads, the school achieved an 89 percent placement rate, she said. In 1998, the rate of students employed or seeking advanced degrees reached 91 percent, Allen added. University of Connecticut School of Law doesn’t tally the number of students going into jobs directly related to the practice of law, said Robin Cecere, director of career services. The percentage of 1999 grads employed just in private practice, however, soared to 58.3 percent, up from 48.1 percent the year before, she said. The Hartford-based school’s overall placement rate was 95.5 percent, down a bit from 96.3 percent in 1998, according to Cecere. “Employers are having to work harder � to get a good pool of applicants,” proclaimed Ellen Rutt, UConn Law’s associate dean for admissions and career services. Hence, they’re much more willing to look at the “whole person,” not just class ranking, especially for students with technical backgrounds or computer skills, Rutt said. Employers also are paying new J.D.s more than ever before. For UConn’s Class of 1999, the median annual salary was $65,000, or $10,000 more than the median amount earned by their counterparts a year before, according to Cecere. The median annual pay for western New England law grads, meanwhile, increased to $44,245 from $39,732 in 1998, Allen reported. “It’s the big firms that have made [the most] significant impact” she said. “But there has been an increase [in law firms' starting salaries] across the board.” If there was any reserve among employers over the past year, it was in the first-year earnings paid to lawyers going into legal services. The median public-interest salary reported by UConn’s Class of 1999 — $32,000 a year — actually was a decline from 1998 when it was $34,277, Cecere admitted. Then again, only 3 percent of the school’s 1999 grads went into that field, so even one poorly paid lawyer can substantially sway the results, she said.

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