New Lawyers Are Finding Fewer Private Practice Jobs

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on August 18, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you're a recent grad and are having trouble landing that private law job, you're in good company -- or least you have company.

According to a new report from the National Association of Law Placement, private law placement of law grads is the poorest it has been since 1996.

The NALP Study Findings

According to the NALP study numbers, of the 40,000 law grads minted last year, only about 17,000 secured employment in private practice. Another 10,000-ish of those were clerking for judges, working for the government, public interest, or in academia. A little under 6,000 decided to forgo law entirely and shoot for business.

So, about 40 percent of law grads went into private practice. Doesn't sound that bad, but in actuality, the number has as much to do with the plummeting number of applicants as it does the economy. Still, James Leipold, NALP's executive director, said that he was surprised to see the private law placements so low. "You have to go back to 1996 to find a comparably small number of private practice jobs."

Trying Times to Be Tryin'

It's difficult to determine whether the decrease is due primarily to employers' reticence to employ new grads, or to other factors. One of the most intuitive lines of reasoning probably has to do with the ample supply of already experienced attorneys getting those jobs that had previously been available to law grads. According to the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Leipold himself considered this line of thinking. It looks like the economy really hasn't been kind to the profession.

Still, the report seems to indicate some bright spots. Overall, the number of openings at BigLaw firms is on the rise. Also, median salary ranges are higher depending on which sub-group one examines. But of course, a rising tide does not raise all ships in this context.

Cultural Comparisons

It is interesting to note how norms define the type of work that graduates will pursue. In America, for instance, there is little prestige in securing government or public interest work unless one has eventual goals of going into politics. Contrast this to the other side of the planet.

In China, there's a phenomenon of university graduates aggressively pursuing government jobs. The motives there are pretty clear: a government job has the dual advantage of being seen as prestigious and stable. For new grads here in America, there may not be the same prestige attached to the term "government employee," but anything is better than waiting around for the perfect private sector job that you simply cannot find.

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