July 2, 2014
Earlier this month, the National Association for Law Placement reported that, proportionately, more 2013 law graduates were working at Large Law firms than 2011 graduates were at this time two years ago.
That is positive news, but for recent law graduates and unemployed attorneys, it may be a beacon of hope, but not much more.
Jobs at Large Law firms are a noteworthy benchmark. They are well-compensated, so they are among the few jobs that will make the cost of attending law school a sound investment. Large Law firm hiring practices also speak to the confidence level of these firms and what they anticipate, workflow-wise, in the near future.
According to NALP, just under 21 percent of 2013 law firm graduates who were working in private practice nine months after graduation had been hired by law firms with more than 500 attorneys. Two years ago, in 2011, just 16 percent of such recent graduates had found similar work. That nadir was a historical low for the industry.
The first thing to note about this statistic is that 2013 law graduates occupied 3,980 positions at Large Law firms. In 2009, recent graduates help 5,156 such jobs. As you can see, the number has inched up, percentage-wise, but quite a bit of lost territory remains to be made up before we reach the level of employment the industry saw five years ago.
It is also worth inquiring as to what happens to the 79 percent of law graduates who do not find positions at Large Law firms. The class of 2014 sent 46,776 graduates – a record – into an inundated market – an inundated market that most observers agree is contracting in response to reduced demand. NALP reported that 64 percent of 2013 graduates held positions for which bar passage was required, and only 51 percent were working in private practice. In other words, more than one-third of the law school class of 2013 was not working in a legal capacity nine months after graduation.
It is a good thing that employment at Large Law firms for newly minted lawyers is increasing. Until the contextual picture brightens, though, it will be hard to cheer too loudly.