Law Graduates Starting Pay Falls as Jobs Erode, Group Finds

Starting salaries for last year’s U.S. law school graduates plummeted 20 percent as private practice jobs eroded, according to a report by the National Association for Law Placement.

The national median starting salary at law firms dropped to $104,000 from $130,000 in 2009, reflecting a shift in the distribution of jobs and salary adjustments at some firms, the NALP said today. The report cited information submitted by 192 laws schools and covering 93 percent of 2010 graduates.

“This is in some ways the fallout of 2008,” NALP Executive Director James Leipold said in a phone interview. “This class was the class that was most squeezed by the recession.”

Aggregate starting salaries fell because graduates found fewer jobs with high-paying large law firms and many more jobs with the smallest firms at lower salaries, Leipold said.

More than half of the jobs taken by 2010 graduates were in firms with 50 or fewer attorneys. Jobs at firms with more than 250 attorneys fell to 26 percent from 33 percent in 2009.

The employment rate for 2010 law school graduates was 87.6 percent, down from a high of 91.9 percent for the 2007 class, the NALP said. Part-time jobs accounted for 11 percent and almost 27 percent were reported as temporary jobs, according to the survey.

Jobs at legal temporary agencies accounted for 8 percent of all temporary jobs, the smallest share since NALP started tracking that sector with the class of 2006.

“In this market far more graduates are stringing together several part-time or temporary jobs to approximate a full-time equivalency for themselves,” Leipold said in the statement.

Only 68.4 percent of graduates polled are in jobs that require bar passage, down from 70.8 percent in 2009, according to the survey. NALP uses bar passage as a proxy for practicing law, Leipold said, noting that some graduates may be in a law-related job. About 91 percent of graduates in 2007 had jobs requiring they pass the bar, Leipold said.

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