It’s a tale of two law schools — or, more broadly, of two legal education worlds.

Nearly nine out of every 10 graduates from Columbia Law School in 2013 found full-time law jobs that were not paid for by the school itself — more than any other school, according to data from the American Bar Association.

On the other end of the spectrum, more than half of Whittier Law School’s recent graduating class — 56 percent — were either unemployed and looking for work nine months after graduation or were in part-time, temporary or nonprofessional jobs.

Whittier’s rate of so-called “underemployed graduates” was the highest reported, but it was hardly the only law school that struggled to place graduates last year. A “devastating” 26.8 percent of the class of 2013 — the largest law graduating class on record — were either unemployed or in part-time or nonlaw jobs, Law School Transparency Executive Director Kyle McEntee said, citing the ABA findings.

More than three-quarters of ABA-accredited law schools — 163 — had underemployment rates of 20 percent or more. See the charts.

“The future remains grim for prospective law students,” McEntee wrote on the Law School Transparency’s website. “Law school enrollment was nearly 40,000 in the most recent year. The current entry-level legal market cannot support such large classes.”

Overall, the hiring picture changed little. Only 57 percent of 2013 graduates found long-term, full-time jobs that require bar passage, up slightly from 56.2 percent in 2012. Top schools continued to place graduates in high numbers, while many lower-tier schools saw their placement numbers decline.

The 88 percent of Columbia graduates who landed the most coveted jobs — full-time, requiring bar passage and not school-funded — helped it move from a tie with Cornell at the No. 5 spot last year to the top spot for 2013 for true law jobs.

At the same time, Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Whittier reported that 24 percent of its class of 2012 were unemployed and looking for work nine months after graduation, a number that rose to 41 percent for the class of 2013. California Western School of Law of San Diego posted an unemployment rate of nearly 36 percent.

Judy DeVine, director of communications at Whittier, said law schools in California have been hit particularly hard by the state’s stagnant economy and relatively late release of bar-exam results. Seven of the 10 schools with the highest percentages of unemployed law graduates were in California. Moreover, many Whittier grads simply take longer than nine months to find jobs, she said.

“This does not mean, however, that we accept these difficulties,” DeVine said. “To the contrary, we are taking major steps to improve the situation for our graduates. We have revamped our career development office, are in the process of hiring a new dean for this area and are planning a new program to help our students transition to successful law practice.”

The year brought a modest increase in the number of students in school-funded jobs, which totaled nearly 1,900. Altogether, such jobs accounted for 4 percent of recent law graduate jobs.

Emory University School of Law reported the highest percentage of graduates in these jobs, at almost 23 percent, or 67 graduates. That was an increase from the 14 percent of 2012 Emory law graduates who took jobs paid for by the school. The school’s “Bridge to Practice” fellowship program, said Susan Clark, associate dean for marketing and communications, pays graduates a monthly stipend to work in a variety of legal offices, including those of federal and state judges, prosecutors, public defenders, small firms and in-house legal departments.

“We stress to students the importance of finding the right legal position, not just any legal position, and we work collaboratively with students to seek out employers that match our graduates’ interests and desired geography,” Clark said. “Some students have even turned down positions in order to participate in the fellowship program.”

The NLJ sifted through the ABA data to determine which law schools had the best employment records in various areas, including actual legal jobs, large-firm jobs, clerkships, and government and public interest jobs. We also looked at the schools with the highest underemployment rates and those that sent the highest percentages of graduates into jobs they paid for themselves.


Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com.