Sunday, July 21, 2013

One-third to One-Half of 1.5 Million U.S. Lawyers Do Not Work as Lawyers

That’s right. A very large number of law graduates choose not to practice law.  Instead, they pursue careers in banking, other financial institutions, insurance, technology and e-commerce, management consulting,  corporate contracts administration, alternative dispute resolution, government regulation or compliance work, law enforcement, human resources, accounting, the military, government executive positions, legislative positions, administrative agencies, teaching, journalism, risk management, judicial clerkships, law school administration, law firm professional development or CLE training,  or other professions. 

In the report I summarized in yesterday's blog, authors Simikovic and McIntyre analyzed data for 2009 from the U.S. Census Bureau and  the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) to conclude that about three out of five law graduates work as lawyers.  Fifty-eight percent of all law degree holders report “lawyer” as their occupation.  If you count only “working” law graduates, the percentage increases to 65 percent.  So, one-third to one-half of law grads do not work as lawyers.  In 2009, approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. had law degrees. 

NALP, the Association for Legal Career Professionals, began tracking different career paths by identifying “JD Preferred” jobs, and then in 2011, switching to “JD Advatage” jobs.  It defines JD Advantage jobs as a category “in which the employer sought an individual with a JD, and perhaps even required a JD, or for which the JD provided a demonstrable advantage in obtaining or performing the job, but are jobs that do not require bar passage, an active law license, or involve practicing law.”

Data for 2012 Law Graduates

Preliminary data (as of February 15, 2013) provided by NALP shows that 64.4 percent of 2012 law grads found employment in jobs requiring bar passage.  Those jobs mostly comprise jobs in private law practice (50.7% of 2012 grads). 

But, 13.3 percent of the 2012 graduates took “JD Advantage” jobs in which the employer did not require bar passage.  And, another 4.9 percent of the graduates took other professional jobs.

NALP reports that its data spanning 39 years shows that  55 to 58 percent of new grads found jobs in private legal practice.  Accordingly, the 2012 rate of entry into those jobs is about four to seven percentage points behind that historical rate.   The 2013 data covered 44,339 graduates.  So, possibly 1,774 to 3,104 grads that year did not find law firm employment within 9 months of graduation. 

Data for 2011 Law Graduates

Data for 2011 law graduates is even more interesting.  As of February 15, 2012, 12.5 percent of 41,623 law graduates took JD Advantage jobs, which was double the rate of 6 percent in 2001.  Nearly half of those jobs were business-related jobs.  This category also includes legal temp agency jobs and academia.  Another 5.3 percent entered other professional jobs.  

For 2011 law grads, 65.4 percent (or 27,224 grads) entered jobs requiring bar passage.   Of those, 16,589 grads entered private law practice. 

Remember the Context

I provide this data for a very specific reason.  Many of the so-called “scamblogs” focus on the rate at which a law school’s graduates obtain full-time jobs requiring bar passage -- preferably, the bloggers suggest, in private legal practice.  I suggest that we keep in mind, that even historically only 55 to 58 percent of all law grads got (or preferred) that type of work.   

As Simkovic and McIntyre’s research suggests, a law degree confers many advantages no matter what career path a graduate chooses.   They said: “Exploratory results suggest that even law degree holders who work in non-lawyer occupations do substantially better than bachelor degree holders.”  The Economic Value of a Law Degree (unpublished manuscript 2013) at n.10 found here

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