Albany Law School now assigns students to mentors for job hunting assistance. Here, Third Department Justice Elizabeth Garry with her two mentees, Jamie Dughi Hogenkamp (left), Class of 2015, and Casandra Stephenson, Class of 2016.
Albany Law School now assigns students to mentors for job hunting assistance. Here, Third Department Justice Elizabeth Garry with her two mentees, Jamie Dughi Hogenkamp (left), Class of 2015, and Casandra Stephenson, Class of 2016. (Courtesy of Albany Law School)

Members of the Class of 2013 from New York’s 15 law schools are faring slightly better than their predecessors in finding jobs, and also better than their counterparts nationwide, according to entry-level employment data released last week by the American Bar Association.

The small boost came even though the nation’s law schools graduated their largest class ever.

For the 5,009 graduates of New York’s schools, 62.9 percent had found full-time, permanent jobs requiring bar passage as of Feb. 15, roughly a 3 percentage-point increase over last year. Nationwide, the 57 percent who secured such jobs was not much higher than 2012′s 56.2 percent.

Get the numbers: 2013 Law School Grads—Where Are They Now?

An additional 10.1 percent of national law school graduates landed jobs for which a J.D. is an advantage but not required. That was up from 9.5 percent for that category. In New York, the percentage of graduates who found “J.D. advantage” jobs this year stayed exactly the same at 7.7.

Meanwhile, the rate of unemployed graduates from New York’s law schools—which includes both those seeking and not seeking work—fell slightly to 11.4 percent this year from 13.1 percent last year.

“The legal employment market has remained almost the same as last year, with a very modest uptick in outcomes,” said Scott Norberg, deputy consultant to the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

Law school career services departments did a better job of accounting for graduates this year, he said, collecting jobs data for 97.7 percent of all recent graduates.

Nationwide, the class of 2013 was the largest graduating law school class in history at 45,695, evidence of a spike in enrollment just after the 2008 financial crisis. New York’s law schools graduated 42 more new J.D.’s in 2013. That makes this year’s improved employment numbers particularly impressive, some deans said.

Only six schools in the U.S. placed more than 90 percent of graduates in full-time, permanent jobs requiring bar passage. That included two schools in New York: Columbia Law School and New York University School of Law.

Twelve of New York’s 15 schools posted improvements in that category over last year.

University at Buffalo Law School saw a 10-point boost to 52.2 percent of its graduates. Syracuse Law School and Albany Law School posted gains of 8.9 points and 8.8 points, respectively.

Buffalo Law’s vice dean for administration, James Newton, said the jump is a result of an investment in both career counseling for students and outreach to potential employers:

“One thing we have done—and plan to do much more of going forward—is strengthen our feedback loop: asking employers ‘What do you think of our graduates? How were the skills of this hire? What do we need to improve?’”

‘Jobs As a Priority’

Albany Law Dean Penelope Andrews attributed improvements on the job front to a school-wide, “concerted campaign with the idea of jobs as a priority.”

Students from the class of 2013 were the first to participate in a mentorship program that pairs each student with faculty and alumni mentors who track their professional development, Andrews said. The program is now mandatory for all students.

“From the moment they walk in the door, we’re emphasizing they’ve got to focus on careers right from the get-go,” Andrews said.

St. John’s Law School dean Michael Simons echoed that sentiment. In the past two years, the school doubled the size of its career office to 14. The expansion has paid off: the school’s 2013 graduating class saw a 6.9-point boost in the permanent, full-time, bar-passage-required category despite being the school’s largest-ever class at 309 J.D.s.

“We’re taking a proactive and individualized approach so every students gets a career counselor before they even get here for orientation,” Simons said.

Of the three New York schools that saw decreases in the full-time, permanent, bar-passage-required category, Pace Law’s 6.8-percentage point drop to 41.5 percent was the most significant. That brought it to the state’s lowest spot for graduates in that category.

The school’s jobs numbers are “not good enough,” dean David Yassky said in a recent interview (NYLJ, April 4).

“We have strong clinical and externship programs already and we’re trying to strengthen them,” said Yassky, who started at the school April 1.

A trend in declining enrollment among New York’s law schools, as well as nationally, over the past few years will result in smaller graduating classes going forward. Several law school deans in New York said that would lessen competition for scarce job opportunities and improve employment rates for the class of 2014 onward.

See related story from The National Law Journal: Theory: The Time Was Never Better to Enroll in Law School

At New York Law School, for example, the 562 who graduated in its 2013 class were part of the second-largest in school history. But a smaller graduating class this year, combined with a stronger emphasis on career planning, will lead to improved job placement for future classes, said Dean Anthony Crowell.

“For the class of 2014, students are getting job offers at a higher rate than we’ve ordinarily seen,” he said. Many offers come from New York City government offices where the school has one of its 26 student law clinics, he added.

Nationwide, the number of new lawyers employed at law firms of more than 500 attorneys increased by about 10 percent. However, the number of new graduates at law firms of between two and 500 attorneys grew by less than 1 percent. The percentage of graduates in jobs in business and industry grew from 14.9 percent to 15.2 percent.

The percentage of recent graduates in government jobs increased slightly, from 10 percent to 10.6 percent, while 4.8 percent were in public-interest legal jobs, down from 5.9 percent. The ABA attributed some of that decline to the changing definition of public defender positions: They used to be categorized as public-interest jobs but now count as government jobs.

Finally, there was a slight uptick in the percentage of the nation’s graduates in jobs funded by their law schools. School-funded jobs accounted for 4 percent of all jobs, up slightly from 3.9 percent the previous year.

But in New York, those positions declined by 2.2 percent, with most schools cutting them.

NYU Law, for example, dropped 20 school-backed positions, leaving 42. Brooklyn Law School, which did not have any school-backed jobs in past years, added 33 for the class of 2013. Most are full-time but not permanent.

Starting next year, the ABA will collect and report employment data 10 months after graduation. The change came after law deans in several states argued that late bar exam results were hurting their jobs numbers because students had less time to find a job after being admitted to practice.