Deciding to attend law school—quickly followed by deciding which school to attend—are life-impacting decisions. A legal education is costly and requires a commitment to a three-year full-time program or a four-year part-time program. The U.S. is currently in a down economy; globalization and technology have impacted, and will continue to impact, the way legal services are delivered. All of these factors have created a challenging, shifting legal job market. We are committed to providing as much information as possible to help prospective students become informed consumers in their decision-making process. We hope that the following FAQs will provide helpful insights, clarify some uncertainties, and enable you to weigh the risks and rewards of investing in a JD degree. Additionally, we encourage you to contact Fowler School of Law’s Career Services Office directly to ask any questions you may have
»Employment FAQs for Prospective Students
+-How are law school employment statistics collected?
The career services office of a law school surveys each member of the most recent graduating class to obtain employment data. Surveys take place at graduation and later again in the same year, typically after bar results are published in the fall and continuing into March of the following year to determine where graduates are working as of March 15, ten months after graduation. (To be counted as employed, according to NALP, a graduate must be on the job as of March 15.* If a graduate receives and accepts a job offer by March 15, but has not undertaken the duties of the position, that graduate will NOT be counted as employed. For example, if a graduate accepted an offer for an associate position on March10, but did not start on the job until March 16, that graduate would count as “unemployed” for reporting purposes.) The data is generally collected through electronic surveys and through individual exit interviews, phone calls, and emails. Employment information is highly confidential and protected by federal privacy laws. Graduates volunteer their information, and though they are strongly encouraged to provide complete employment data for the purposes of assisting prospective students and measuring employment outcomes, which law schools are mandated to report to the American Bar Association, graduates cannot be compelled to provide private employment data. Therefore, it is important to note that employment data published by any law school will typically be incomplete to some degree.
*In August 2013, the American Bar Association voted to change the timeline for collecting law school post-graduation employment data from nine months to ten months after graduation. The new timeline will go into effect for the Class of 2014.
+-To which nationally recognized organizations do law schools report employment data?
- National Association for Law Placement (NALP)
- American Bar Association (ABA)*
- U.S. News and World Report
- Princeton Review
- Barron’s Guide of Law Schools
There may be other organizations to which law schools report employment data, but the foregoing list provides a representative list of some of the most important reporting organizations.
Employment data is submitted annually to the ABA, NALP, and the Princeton Review in April. Data is reported to U.S News & World Report annually in the fall. For example, the rankings which were published by U.S. News & World Report in March 2014 were the statistics for the Class of 2012, which were reported in 2013 to NALP, the ABA, and U.S. News & World Report. Statistics for our Class of 2013 are currently available on our website and were also published by the ABA in April 2014.
*Please note that in August 2013, the American Bar Association voted to change the timeline for collecting law school post-graduation employment data from nine months to ten months after graduation. The new timeline will go into effect for the Class of 2014.
+-When does employment information become available for a given class year?
An ABA-accredited law school must publish its employment statistics on the school’s website by March 31 for the last graduating class after its ten-month-out employment figures become solidified (as of March 15 the year following graduation).* The Fowler School of Law’s most recent employment statistics are available here. For example, employment information for our Class of 2013 became solidified under NALP guidelines on February 15, 2014. Graduates of the Class of 2013 who were actually working on the job by February 15 were counted as employed per NALP. If a graduate accepted a job offer by February 15, but was not undertaking the duties of the position by that date, the graduate was reported as “unemployed.” It is our goal to provide the most recent employment data as soon as we can to help prospective students evaluate their choices.
Other official reporting organizations, such as the ABA and U.S. News & World Report, historically lagged in reporting employment data. For example, Class of 2012 employment data was submitted to U.S. News in Fall 2013, but it was not published until March 2014. In a move to make employment data available to the public sooner, the ABA now releases ABA-accredited law school employment data every spring. So, for example, the Class of 2013 employment data reported to the ABA in March 2014 was published by the ABA in April 2014, but may be available earlier on individual law school websites prior to April.
Law School Class Graduates
Law Schools Report Employment Stats*
Law Schools Publish Stats on School Websites per ABA requirement*
ABA Publishes Data*
Schools Report Employment for Class of 2013 to U.S. News
U.S. News Publishes Data for Class of 2013
It is important to be aware of the differing reporting periods published by organizations, so be careful when you are reviewing employment data produced by different organizations so that you are clear on which class year’s data is being published as you make comparisons.
*In August 2013, the American Bar Association voted to change the timeline for collecting law school post-graduation employment data from nine months to ten months after graduation. The new timeline will go into effect for the Class of 2014.
+-Do these organizations use the same definitions and formulas in defining their terms and in interpreting employment data?
Organizations often define terms differently and may also use differing formulas to calculate and interpret employment data. Be aware of these differences as you analyze employment data from various sources. In addition, organizations may redefine categories over time or change their formulas. U.S. News and World Report provides multiple examples of changes in formula for calculating employment statistics: For the Class of 2011, according to the magazine’s newest formula announced in March 2013, only graduates who were employed in full-time, permanent, bar-license-required or JD-advantage positions were given “full weight” in the employment calculation. (See announcement here: http://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/articles/2013/03/11/methodology-best-law-schools-rankings). So when you see an employment percentage listed for a law school in the rankings, you should understand that the employed percentage does not take into full consideration graduates who were working in full-time positions that were not permanent, any part-time positions, or graduates working in a professional job that was not advantaged by a JD degree, along with any graduates working in a non-professional capacity. U.S News has not published what weight was given to other types of post-graduate employment. (See further explanation by U.S. News here: http://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/articles/2013/03/11/methodology-best-law-schools-rankings?page=2.) Following is an additional example of a change to the calculation that U.S. News implemented in prior years: For the Class of 2008, the magazine counted law school graduates who chose to seek an advanced degree beyond their JDs following graduation as “employed,” but then changed its employment formula for the Classes of 2009 and 2010 and following years to-date, counting law school graduates pursuing advanced degrees as “unemployed.”
Since you may be viewing employment statistics for the Classes of 2011 and 2010, to help you evaluate those statistics, you should be aware that in the past, NALP and the ABA had slightly differing definitions of “short-term” and “long-term” employment. For the Class of 2010, NALP defined jobs as “temporary” or “permanent” based on whether the work was for a specific length of time or project-based and also defined post-graduate judicial clerkships, which typically last one-to-two years, as “temporary.” For the Class of 2010, the ABA defined “long-term” employment as any job lasting a year or longer and a “short-term” position as any job which lasts for less than one year. For the Class of 2010, NALP defined a post-graduate judicial clerk as working in a temporary or short-term position, but the ABA defined the same job as a long-term position. For the Class of 2011, NALP redefined its definitions for short- and long-term employment to sync with the definitions provided by the ABA. So depending on what employment data sources you are reviewing for a particular law school, these differing definitions may account for some minor discrepancies in the published statistics for law schools.
+-How do prospective students determine “under-employment” statistics for a law school?
Once data is published by law schools and the various reporting organizations, other organizations or individuals are free to review and interpret the data in different ways. Some organizations will consider recent graduates in part-time jobs or those enrolled in advanced degree programs, such as a legal master’s degree, as “under-employed.” However, that particular graduate may not consider himself “under-employed,” if obtaining an advanced degree is perceived as key to achieving his ultimate employment goal or increasing his competitiveness as a candidate. Sometimes accepting a part-time job can be a strategic first step in attaining full-time legal employment, an example is the success story of graduate Courtney Lewis Mason.
+-Is it better to have a job that requires a bar license rather than a position defined as “JD Advantage” by NALP or the ABA?
It depends on your professional goals. Though most law school students come to law school intending to practice law, some plan to or decide later to use their legal education to work in non-lawyer positions in business, government, or public interest, rather than in practice, and find that their legal education helps them to hone analytical and problem-solving skills that are also valued by these employers. Some students wish to pursue and obtain legally-related work in regulatory and compliance work or other legally-related areas that require a JD degree, but not a bar license. These types of jobs are classified by NALP as “JD Advantage” positions, which means that the employer sought a candidate with a JD degree, but the job itself does not require a bar license. Some examples of “JD Advantage” jobs are compliance officer, accountant, talent/sports agent, law school administrator, human resources manager, and corporate contracts administrator. For some graduates, these positions may represent “dream jobs,” and they would not agree that it was better for them to have a position requiring a bar license. One of our recent graduates from the Class of 2010, for example, is the head of Government Relations for Disneyland Resorts, which is classified as a “JD Advantage” position. For her, that position was her ideal job, not a career compromise.
+-Is there value in working at a part-time job or doing volunteer work after graduating law school?
We recognize that in a down economy it may take longer than in previous years for graduates to find full-time legal employment, but we see that gaining meaningful experience through part-time and volunteer work after graduation helps recent graduates to build their resumes, expand their network of contacts, and potentially impress prospective employers by demonstrating a strong work ethic.
A great example of how part-time and volunteer work can get a grad to where she wants to be is Courtney Lewis Mason ('09) who landed a job as the Associate Counsel for the Phoenix Suns, an NBA franchise. Throughout her entire third year at the Fowler School of Law, Ms. Mason had an unpaid externship with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and was working part-time when she graduated from law school. This opportunity with the Angels broadened her professional network, which eventually led to a position as Legal Counsel for the Phoenix Coyotes, an NHL franchise. During her two-year tenure with the Coyotes, she managed the day-to-day operations of the legal department while the team had filed for bankruptcy in May 2009 and was seeking a new owner. In March 2012, Ms. Mason transitioned from the Phoenix Coyotes to the Phoenix Suns where she currently manages the legal operations for the Suns, the Phoenix Mercury (a WNBA franchise) and the US Airways Center.
+-Is pursuing an LL.M. degree following graduation a good idea?
At Fowler Law, we do not encourage graduates to pursue an LL.M. as a strategy to wait out the employment market. In fact, we actively advise JD graduates not to pursue an advanced degree by investing additional time and money in an LL.M. program unless it makes sense for that particular individual. The decision to complete a legal master’s degree or other advanced degree should fit in with the particular graduate’s employment goals. In our experience, Tax LL.M. degrees may provide an employment advantage, and we have also seen graduates of our LL.M. in Trial Advocacy and International Law advantaged by their advanced degrees. As an example, some of our graduates from the Class of 2013 who pursued LL.M. degrees immediately following graduation are now employed with Ernst & Young.
+-When do most legal employers recruit for post-graduate positions?
As you evaluate employment data, it is important to know something about how and when a variety of legal employers recruit because there are distinct differences in the timing of recruitment among these employers. Law schools whose graduates are hired in greater numbers by large law firms will be advantaged in terms of employment statistics at graduation and at nine-months-out because of the way in which large firms recruit. If you are not planning to work in a large firm, it is important to understand when other types of legal employers recruit. Law schools which have a greater number of students going into smaller firms and the public sector will typically not show as many graduates employed at graduation and nine months out because of the recruitment timing practiced by these types of employers as explained below.
Large Law Firms (may be defined as 101+ attorneys firm-wide): These firms recruit the majority of their entry-level attorneys through “summer associate” programs. Firms will hire a certain number of second-year law students to work for them over a student’s second summer in law school. If the summer associate performs well, then a permanent job offer is usually extended at the end of that summer, and if the student accepts the offer, he or she would start work at the firm following graduation and after sitting for the bar examination the following year. Because of the size of their practices, large law firms typically have had the ability to project two years in advance approximately how many attorneys they will need to recruit in a given year. This recruitment pattern is not typical for most other legal employers. The majority of legal employers recruit closer in time to when they can better project their need and hiring budget. Large law firms hire most heavily from top 50 law schools and place great emphasis on a student’s class rank. NALP reported that out of the 44,637 Class of 2013 law graduates nationwide, only 4,000 graduates (9%) obtained large firm (500+ attorneys) entry-level jobs: http://www.nalp.org/uploads/Classof2013SelectedFindings.pdf
Mid-Sized and Small Law Firms: The majority of attorneys in the United States work in small or mid-sized firms. Though there are some exceptions, most small and mid-sized law firms do not have summer associate programs and often do not extend permanent post-graduate attorney job offers prior to a student’s graduation. Smaller firms will hire when they have a need or when they are closer in time to an anticipated recruitment so that they can better assess their growth trajectory. Some small firms hiring associates may require that a recent graduate obtain his/her bar license before applying for an attorney position or may hire a post-bar law clerk, but then make the permanent associate offer contingent upon bar passage.
Government Agencies (federal, state and local): Government recruitment timelines will vary depending on the type of position. A “JD Advantage” position will not require that an applicant obtain a bar license before applying, so a recent graduate would be able to apply much sooner for that type of position, but for many government attorney positions a graduate must wait until obtaining a bar license before he or she can apply. For example, in some cases, a graduate from the Class of 2014 would not be able to apply for open deputy district attorney positions until after receiving positive bar results in November of 2014.
Public Interest/Non-Profit Employers: Similar to government employers, most public interest employers do not give permanent job offers until a candidate has obtained his or her bar license, and will typically expect that sincere candidates will demonstrate their commitment to the organization by volunteering prior to obtaining their bar licenses.
+-How soon should I start thinking about legal employment?
Focus on employment options prior to starting law school and from day one of your first year in law school. The end game of law school is to get a job. Really examine why you think you want to be a lawyer and take the time to learn what it is that lawyers really do so that you can determine if it is truly a good fit for who you are as a person. Becoming an attorney can offer unique and wonderful rewards, but not everyone should be an attorney. As stated in Deborah Schneider’s and Gary Belsky’s informative book, Should You Really Be a Lawyer?, if there is a reasonable doubt, don’t go! It is too difficult and expensive an undertaking to enter into law school without carefully weighing the costs and benefits. Educate yourself so that you have realistic expectations about the nature and range of attorney work and starting salaries.
If you decide to attend law school, it is critical to know that the focus for students is both academic achievement AND professional development. Fowler School of Law students are encouraged to build a network of contacts, get real work experience, and engage with our Career Services Office early in their education to take advantage of all employment resources. Obtaining meaningful legal work experience early in your legal education will help you to identify the type of law practice and legal setting that will be the right fit for you. Once you know what interests you in the law, you will become a more focused and effective job candidate and will be able to make strategic choices about the kinds of classes and other experiences you want to have in law school, which will further your employment goals and enhance your employability.
+-What can I expect to earn as a new attorney?
It depends on what type of an attorney you are. Large law firm associates have the highest starting salaries of most legal employers, and salaries can range from approximately $125,000 to $160,000 for an entry-level attorney. To support such high starting salaries for inexperienced attorneys, firms will typically require that associates work long hours to meet billable requirements, which can mean 10-12-hour work days and working weekends when the firm deems it necessary. If your goal is to become a trial attorney, be aware that it could be four to six years before you will actually have the opportunity to gain courtroom experience. But large law firms DO NOT employ the majority of law school graduates and never have. Most law school graduates, including the majority of Fowler School of Law graduates, start their careers and continue practice in smaller law firms of 2-10 attorneys (See ABA Lawyer Demographics).
According to an ABA report, job satisfaction for attorneys is highest in smaller firms and lowest in large firms. NALP reports, in California, the average starting salary of a law school graduate from the Class of 2012 who went to work in a firm of 2-10 attorneys had an average starting salary of $61,927 (compared to $62,474 for the Class of 2011). (This NALP statistic includes data from all ABA-accredited law schools for the Class of 2012. See Jobs & JDs: Employment and Salaries of New Law Graduates, Class of 2012 NALP.) Recent graduates who become government attorneys also will not typically start out making six-figure annual salaries. As an example, most Southern California district attorney offices offer starting salaries in the $60,000-$69,000 range. For the Class of 2012, NALP reported that the national average starting salaries for public interest attorneys was $45,487 (compared to $45,573 for the Class of 2011). Though public interest attorneys are usually the lowest paid attorneys, they have historically reported the greatest job satisfaction. For additional starting salary information, please contact our Career Services Office and refer to the Chapman employment statistics.
+-How does bar pass success affect a graduate’s employment prospects?
Because many attorney positions will require that applicants already have a bar license before applying, it is of the utmost importance to do all that you can to prepare for and pass the bar examination the first time. In our experience, graduates who fail the July bar on their first attempt often delay seeking full-time employment until after they have taken the February bar, and again will be faced with a more limited pool of jobs while they are waiting for their bar results. It is typical that a significant percentage of graduates who are unemployed nine months after graduation prefer not to work while studying to retake the bar examination or, if they passed the California bar examination on their first attempt, they may be sitting for a bar examination in another state and, likewise, are choosing to delay their job search to focus on their studies. At Fowler Law, we understand how important it is to succeed on the bar examination, and we have implemented an academic success program and a very effective early bar prep program to ensure that our graduates are well prepared for the bar examination. Since implementing this program in 2007, Fowler Law has seen a dramatic rise in first-time bar pass rates. To view Fowler School of Law’s historical bar pass rates in the July and February bar exams, see admissions.calbar.ca.gov.
+-What determines a person’s ultimate success practicing law?
While attending a highly ranked law school and achieving a high GPA will certainly open doors for students, and in particular with large law firms, even at the most prestigious law firms statistics show that other characteristics are more often the predictor of long-term success. These characteristics include the ability to relate well with people, adaptability, a strong work ethic, and positive attitude – indeed, the very characteristics Fowler School of Law seeks in prospective students. As an attorney, clients are paying not only for your legal expertise, but your good judgment and professionalism. Who you are as a professional matters to your ultimate success in law, and that is something that you control in any job market.
+-What do Fowler School of Law graduates have to offer employers?
In this challenging economy, employers who adapt and innovate will thrive despite the harsh economic climate that we are in. As a relatively young law school, the Fowler School of Law is known for being energetic, adaptable, and innovative in the face of challenge. Not surprisingly, our students and graduates are equipped both by training and attitude to succeed. We are facing the job market head-on by emphasizing practical skills training, enhancing clinical coursework, and expanding our externship program. Over the last several years, we have significantly increased the size of our Fall On-Campus Interview and Resume Collection Program to over 100 employers, and we are working hard to continue growing the Program for 2014. We have also instituted professionalism training as a graduation requirement to ensure that our students are prepared to transition smoothly from law school into practice and are well-equipped to handle the reality and demands of a legal work environment. Our students understand that success is earned, and they offer employers not only strong legal research and writing skills, but dedication, passion for their work, and a strong work ethic without an attitude of entitlement. As employers strive to survive and thrive in this economy, they will need highly qualified attorneys like Fowler School of Law grads who have the skills, drive, innovation and work ethic to add real value to their firms and agencies.
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