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July 28, 2008 5:04 PM

For Law Grads, 2007 Was a Very Good Year

Posted by Zach Lowe

Nearly 92 percent of 2007 law school graduates have jobs now, the highest reported figure in 20 years. And those who work at law firms are earning a median salary of $108,500--about $13,000 more than 2006 graduates were making when they started out.

Those figures come from an annual survey conducted by the National Association of Legal Career Professionals.

The huge jump in median starting salaries is a bit misleading. According to Judith Collins, NALP's research director and the author the study, first-year salaries are highly polarized. About 16 percent of the surveyed graduates earn $160,000 or more at big firms. But 38 percent are earning $55,000 or less. The polarization is consistent with past years; William Henderson, the law firm guru at the Indiana University Law School in Bloomington, found a similar gap among 2006 graduates and worried that firms racing to pay escalating salaries for top-tier grads may run aground.

But 2008 is not 2007, and the high employment rate and salary jump will probably not continue this year, says James Leipold, NALP's executive director. The economic downturn had only just begun when the 2007 class accepted their first jobs, and the firms of the Am Law 200 still were enjoying a record economic year, despite the second-half slowdown.

"Last year marked the culmination of an unprecedented five-year run for the legal economy," Leipold says. "The fact that the class had a very robust placement rate is not surprising."

What will happen to this year's graduates is unclear, though a downturn is to be expected, Leipold says. Still, he says, firm recruiters say they plan to spend the same number of days on law school campuses, interviewing the same number of candidates as last year.

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This 2007 grad is still looking for permanent employment. I know of three other 2007 grads in similar situations. All top 50 grads and all 3.0+. 2007 was not a good year to graduate from law school.

The 8% of 2007 law graduates that are not currently employed are either independently wealthy or have too much pride to take a job beneath them. As for 16% of the remaining 92%, congratulations on finding employment. I fall within the 76% of underemployed graduates and I am disgusted by the fact that to earn a decent salary, you are basically forced to do document review and to be considered "employed" you have to take a job that pays less than most undergrads make. LAW SCHOOL SUCKS!

I do think 2007 was generally an exceptionally good year, but I also agree that there are still people out there who attended the schools that everyone claims major law firms go after who either took jobs "beneath them," struggled to find employment and/or are still unemployed from 2007. These kinds of articles never tell the full story. And it's funny how these stories, as well as law schools, make broad evasive statements like, "92% of 2007 graduates now have jobs." For one thing, they graduated over a year ago. Many of them probably spent months and months out of work. Taking nearly a year to find a job is not a good thing. Second, just because they're working doesn't mean they're working as lawyers. Just look at some of these blogs; there are fairly recent grads out there waiting tables or as paralegals. And if 92 is a "very good year," wow...I hate to know what the percentage of employment is for a standard year. Simply put, all of us give up too much and work too hard for over 10% to not be employed PERIOD, let alone not be able to find a job practicing law if we want and settling for waiting tables or being paralegals.

NALP continues to be a source of major misinformation regarding the actual state of affairs in the law school graduate job market. I graduated in 2007 from a top tier law school, in the top 40% of my class, was an editor of a law review, and have a considerable amount of business experience and can tell you first hand that the market is not as rosie as NALP illustrates with their statistics. In fact, despite sending out over 700 resumes (none of them blind) it took me close to a year to find a position with a small firm. I've found my experience indicative of the state of the market for 2007 graduates as numerous other in my class as well as those at other top 40 schools remain either unemployed or underemployed. NALP and law schools fail to take into account those people who are employed but underemployed, working as contract attorneys on document review projects or as law clerks rather than attorneys. In addition, NALP and the law schools 'game" the survey by listing people as being employed when they are underemployed and working in non-legal positions even though they are still searching for legal positions.

I hate to be mean, but maybe people need a reality check. It is a poor decision to spend $150K and three or more years studying at a law school that is not top tier. People who are thinking about doing so also need to do their research first. The truth is that there just plain aren't enough high-paying legal jobs for all the law school grads every year, and the ones from lower-tier schools who have no other special qualifications just can't compete. I'm sorry, but it's reality. Maybe those people are naive and don't realize that the field is flooded, but it's just Darwinian - survival of the fittest. Not everybody who enters a given field will be successful, it is simply impossible because there are just not enough high-paying jobs out there, period. A lot of the recent grads who are unemployed/underemployed now really just went into law school with false expectations. I truly hope all the unemployed or underemployed recent grads can find a fulfilling career eventually, but unfortunately, there just aren't enough of them in big law for everyone who wants one.

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