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The Legal Job Market Isn't Dead; It's Just ... Delayed?

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

This year, we've seen a lot of bad news about the legal job market. The most recent statistics were devastating for everyone except lateral candidates who have been practicing for more than five years. Half of the class of 2011 was making less than $60k, which means student loans are sitting pretty in default status. The depressing statistics would have been unfathomably low just a few years ago. Today, it matches with many of our experiences, as well as those of our classmates.

One man, however, contends that the glass is half-full. Professor D. Benjamin Barros of Widener tracked down law grads from the class of 2010 and 2011 to see how they were faring today, rather than at the nine month mark. The results were better, though they were better in a "getting shot in the leg is better than being run over slowly by a steamroller" sort of way.

For Widener's 2010 grads, the percentage with jobs requiring bar passage was at a whopping 47.5 percent. It's currently at 80.4 percent. The news is almost as good for 2011 grads, which had an employment rate raise from 46.8 percent at graduation to 78.1 percent (70 percent if solos and temp workers slaving away at doc review are eliminated).

Glass half-full? The long-term employment rate is between 78.1 and 80.4 percent!

Glass three-quarters empty? That's a 20-ish percent unemployment rate years after graduating. That also begs the ever-important question: how much are those grads actually making?

There's a difference between a job and a career. People go to law school to find a career-- a path of employment that leads them to a satisfying profession with an adequate salary to cover the cost of their education and the cost of living. Many end up with a job -- a gig that pays $25k in some shady sweatshop of a law office or doc review farm, has no chance of advancement, and at best, is treading water on the pool of principal and interest left over from financing a seemingly fruitless education.

That's not to speak ill of Professor Barros' work. He makes some great points. For one, a nine-month employment figure is pretty asinine. We graduate in May. We take the bar. In many states, we don't even get results until mid-November. That's about six months right off the top.

We'd venture a guess that most small firms don't want to hire someone until they have passed the bar - in this economy why risk a position and salary on someone who could be nearly useless in a few months? Three months is a short time to apply, interview (ha, who gets interviews?), and agree to terms with an employer.

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