Before Virus Hit, Drop In Law Grads Led To Better Job Market

By Michele Gorman
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Law360 (June 1, 2020, 10:49 PM EDT) -- A slight increase in the number of jobs and a decrease in the size of the 2019 graduating law school class led to a higher percentage of new attorneys finding employment over the past year, according to data released Monday by the American Bar Association — but that doesn't include the recent economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ABA's accrediting body, the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, unveiled aggregate national data on the employment outcomes for the law school class of 2019, showing that in mid-March, about 10 months after graduation, almost 81% of new lawyers were employed in long-term, full-time positions. The employment figure is a slight increase over the data from 2018, which showed a nearly 78% new graduate employment rate for the same kinds of roles.

Employment Status,
Employment Type
Class of 2019 Class of 2018
Total Percent of Total Grads Total Percent of Total Grads
Bar Passage Required 25,040 73.7% 23,995 70.1%
Long-Term/Full-Time 24,470 72.1% 23,401 68.4%
Long-Term/Part-Time 226 0.7% 216 0.6%
Short-Term/Full-Time 253 0.7% 274 0.8%
Short-Term/Part-Time 91 0.3% 104 0.3%

JD Advantage 3,555 10.5%
4,105 12%
Long-Term/Full-Time 2,882 8.5% 3,200 9.4%
Long-Term/Part-Time 245 0.7% 344 1%
Short-Term/Full-Time 235 0.7% 325 0.9%
Short-Term/Part-Time 193 0.6% 234 0.7%

Unemployed/Seeking 2,186 6.4% 2,486 7.3%

2019 graduates fared proportionally better overall than the class of 2018 because there were fewer graduates and a few more jobs, the ABA said. According to the new ABA data, the number of full-time, long-term "bar passage required" or "J.D. advantage" jobs grew about 3% from 2018 to 2019.

Of the 33,954 total graduates last year, about 74% found themselves in positions that required bar passage, and almost 11% were employed in "J.D. advantage" roles, such as a paralegal or compliance manager, for which a law degree is preferred, according to the ABA.

Just over 6% of the 2019 class was unemployed and looking for jobs 10 months after graduation, according to the data.

The ABA's annual data came from the 198 law schools enrolling students and approved by the organization. It reflects 2019 graduates' employment status as of March 15, about 10 months after spring graduation but just as the COVID-19 outbreak hit the U.S. As a result, the ABA said the data "may not reflect current law graduate outcomes in today's changed economic environment."

Law firms and in-house legal departments have since furloughed and laid off staff to help shoulder the economic toll of the health crisis. The legal industry shed about 64,000 jobs in April, a 5.5% decrease from March as the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic washed over the sector, according to the most recent U.S. Department of Labor data.

--Additional reporting by Kevin Penton. Editing by Alanna Weissman.

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