AT A GLANCE

  • In April 2016, the legal services sector lost 1,500 jobs, employing a total of 1,122,500 people in that month
  • Over the course of 2016 thus far, monthly legal sector job totals have fluctuated and also seen some layoffs at large law firms
  • While industry analysts have seen signs of emerging recovery in job prospects for new law graduates, some analyst point to data that contradicts this

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Jun 01, 2016

Industry Highlight: Legal

The legal services sector lost 1,500 jobs in April 2016, after gaining 1,200 jobs the previous month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The latest jobs report from the BLS estimates that 1,122,500 people worked in the legal industry during the month. Despite the month-over-month drop, April’s figures mark an increase of 3,300 legal sector jobs over the same period last year.

Legal Employment Trends, 2016

Legal Employment Trends, 2016

Source: BLS

Over the course of 2016 so far, monthly legal sector job totals have fluctuated, with the industry losing jobs in January and February, while adding jobs in March. This year has also seen some layoffs at large law firms such as Reed Smith, Baker Donelson and Schiff Hardin.

Legal Employment Percentage, by Type

Legal Employment Percentage, by Type

Source: BLS

New Law Graduates

Recently, industry analysts and followers have seen signs of an emerging recovery in the job prospects for freshly graduated lawyers. A first glance at the latest numbers released by the American Bar Association (ABA) suggests that a larger percentage of new graduates of ABA-accredited schools are landing legal jobs as compared to last year. However, some industry experts disagree.

According to data released by the ABA’s Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, out of everyone who gradated from ABA-accredited law schools in 2015, 70 percent have full-time, long-term employment in positions that require or prefer a law degree. Comparatively, 69 percent of the 2014 graduates had full-time, long-term employment in jobs requiring or preferring a law degree. Jerry Organ, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Laws, says that making a comparison of these two data points does not give a clear sense of the employment picture for new lawyers. For one thing, the class of 2015 was 8.8 percent smaller than the previous year. Also, the 2014 percentage for full-time, long-term JD-related positions included law-school funded jobs, while the 2015 data did not.

According to Deborah J. Merritt, a professor at Ohio State University Moritz College of Lawyers, law firms hired 1,574 fewer new graduates in 2015 than they did in 2014. She says “I think most law schools were hoping that the number of jobs people could get had stabilized. Instead these job numbers are going down. We’re graduating a lot more people than there are spaces available.”

Experts say that with fewer students enrolled in law schools today, job rates in 2016 and beyond should improve, even if the raw number of jobs continues to decline. However, despite the number of law school graduates declining over the past two years, 27 percent of law schools placed less than half of their class in long-term, full-time legal jobs. Overall, just 43 percent of all law schools saw an increase in their legal job rate this year, despite an average enrollment change of negative 9 percent.

“I think that looking at the percentage change in full-time, long-term bar-passage-required and JD-advantage jobs—a modest increase from 69 percent to 70.1 percent between 2014 and 2015—does not give the full picture because it masks the fact that the number of such jobs actually declined.” ~Jerry Organ, Law Professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

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