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Friday, May 04, 2018

The best employment outcomes for law students

Law schools disclose somewhat granular employment statistics to the American Bar Association as a result of increased and improved transparency efforts in the last decade. Over at my blog, I've looked at region-specific figures, the overall market, and industry-specific outcomes. (In short, things are looking up this year!)

But after churning through these figures for several years, I realize that we (the writ-large legal academy) make a number of assumptions about these outcomes. These assumptions are heavily influenced by what USNWR does, what "scam bloggers" and "transparency" advocates endorse (ed.: guilty of scare-quoting...), and even by the very ABA forms themselves. When I aggregate the data, I expressly qualify that I'm making some assumptions based on what USNWR does, as it's one of the more generally-accepted practices: give "full weight" to jobs that are full-time, long-term, and are bar passage-required or J.D.-advantage; give some less weight to school-funded positions in those categories; and heavily discount (and others would outright ignore) all other outcomes.

There are raging debates about each of these categories as we try to figure out whether students have "good" or the "best" employment outcomes. Are J.D.-advantage jobs really equivalent to bar passage-required jobs? (Answer: it depends, but certainly not perfectly equivalent.) Should full-time school-funded jobs be discounted? (Answer: maybe the status of these positions has changed over the last few years, and we could use more information.)

But the one nagging question is one that's unanswerable from these debate (which, in my view, have huge amounts of uncertainty!). Instead, I think the most salient question to address the question of whether law students are graduating with the best employment outcomes. And that's a question that looks like this: "Are you satisfied with your employment outcome?"

There are huge problems with this question. Students can have dramatically unrealistic expectations. We know from survey data that a lot of entry-level attorneys are often already looking for their next job, some of them because they viewed the first job as a stepping stone, but others assuredly because of disappointment. Region, salary, debt loans, class rank--lots of things can factor into satisfaction.

Still, shouldn't we be asking this question of our graduates? If a student want to work part time, or has a dream professional (non-J.D.-advantage), or is happily enrolled in a PhD program, we'd like to know that. And if a student is in a 3-person law firm with the credentials that suggest the student has been "underplaced," we'd like to know that, too.

Perhaps schools are already internally asking these questions. Perhaps the huge problems are insurmountable, and it'd just be one more data point that only creates more questions rather than illuminates anything of too much value. Nevertheless, given that many of our other assumption of "good" or "best" employment outcomes seem to assume graduate satisfaction, perhaps there are better--if not outright direct--ways of determining that.

Posted by Derek Muller on May 4, 2018 at 12:09 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


What about donation rates for law schools vs medical schools, business schools, etc? If graduates feel warmly enough towards their alma mater to donate they probably don't feel like they were ripped off.

Posted by: john | May 5, 2018 8:03:24 PM

Based on my personal experience, I would think schools that get students into big firms in big cities would have very low satisfaction. Those firms are very competitive and pay very well, but they are horrible places to work. I only lasted two years at my first firm, and all of my friends at the firm had an exit strategy.

Posted by: anon | May 4, 2018 8:53:35 PM

NALP's survey instrument asks an annual question that may serve as a reasonably objective proxy for satisfaction. They track how many employed graduates are seeking a different job. "Of employed graduates from the Class of 2016, not quite 17% were seeking a different job, a figure that has fallen each year from the record high of 24.6% for the Class of 2011. However, the percentage of employed graduates continuing to seek remains higher than the 15.9% figure reported for the Class of 2008. The extent to which employed graduates are seeking a different job varies by the kind of job held. For example, about 40% of graduates with a job for which a JD was an advantage were seeking a different job, compared to 9% of to those with a job requiring bar passage.
requiring bar passage." https://www.nalp.org/uploads/SelectedFindingsClassof2016.pdf

Posted by: x | May 4, 2018 3:21:41 PM

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