More New Lawyers Going to Small Firms Than BigLaw: ABA Survey

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on May 08, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When it comes to a new lawyer's first job, size doesn't seem to matter. Nearly two-thirds of new grads who go into the private sector are going to small law firms rather than BigLaw, an analysis of ABA data shows.

For the Class of 2010, more than 18,000 newly minted JDs — 42% of total graduates — were employed by private law firms, according to the ABA's law school placement survey. Results for the Class of 2010 were posted in mid-April.

Of those 2010 graduates who landed private-sector jobs, 62.6% got jobs at small firms — those with 50 or fewer attorneys, a FindLaw analysis of the data shows.

Compare that to 16.2% who got jobs at midsized firms of 51 to 500 attorneys, and 21.2% who went to a BigLaw firm with more than 500 attorneys.

The ABA survey also went further in breaking down private-sector employment figures. Results showed:

  • 6.5% of new graduates who went into the private sector were employed by solo firms,
  • 41.0% were employed at firms of two to 10 attorneys,
  • 9.5% worked at firms of 11 to 25 attorneys,
  • 5.6% worked at firms of 26 to 50 attorneys,
  • 4.5% worked at firms of 51 to 100 attorneys,
  • 5.7% worked at firms of 101 to 250 attorneys,
  • 6.0% worked at firms of 250 to 500 attorneys, and
  • 21.2% worked at firms of more than 500 attorneys.

Altogether, ABA-accredited law schools produced 43,706 new lawyers in 2010, according to school-reported survey data. Nearly 85% of those lawyers were employed, the data showed.

But critics say those employment numbers may be inflated. For example, law schools funded jobs for 1,780 of their own graduates in the Class of 2010. That means 4.8% of "employed" new grads (or about 1 in 20) were actually being supported by their law school.

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