There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a law school – but one that should definitely be on your list is employment outcomes. People are motivated to pursue a legal education for all types of reasons, but when it comes right down to it, most prospective law students expect that a law degree will make it possible for them to land a decent legal job. The legal job market – while perhaps improving slightly in recent years – is still highly competitive, and a law degree doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a plum associate position will be waiting for you at graduation (or when that first student loan payment is due.) Which is why evaluating a law school’s employment data is so important when choosing a school – if you’re going to law school with the hope of obtaining a legal job you want to make sure you attend a school that will meet your expectations.
The American Bar Association maintains detailed employment statistics for each accredited law school, but sifting through the data can be a little overwhelming if you’re not familiar with all the terms and formats. To help you make an informed decision when selecting a law school, here is an overview of what’s available, how it’s compiled, and what all this data means.
Finding the Data
The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is the national accrediting body for American law schools. As part of their accreditation process, they require each institution to report employment data for their alumni. Law schools must complete a questionnaire about each graduate’s employment outcomes and return it to the ABA. Law schools are instructed to report their employment outcomes accurately, but they typically have to rely on self-reported information from former students. The information gathered from these law schools is compiled and reproduced on the ABA website, where you can also find information about each school’s bar passage outcomes and enrollment. ABA Standard 509 also requires law schools to make this information publicly available on their own websites.
Organizing the Data
The ABA has made the employment statistics it gathers from law schools available in multiple formats on its website. This chart shows the aggregate employment outcomes for all law school grads. It’s helpful if you want to get an overall impression of the employment climate, but it doesn’t specify how each school performed. You can view school specific information in the Excel spreadsheet titled 2015-2018 Granular Employment Data, which breaks down the details of each school’s employment outcomes, but the most helpful tool is likely the ABA’s employment outcomes database. The database allows you to select an individual school you are interested in learning about and then download a report that summarizes its employment outcomes. The report provides detailed information in an easy to review format, including employment status of alumni, employment type, and state of employment. (While you’re at it, you may also want to check out the ABA’s bar passage outcomes database!)
Understanding the Data
When reviewing the statistics compiled by the ABA, you may come across a few unique categories. The employment outcomes gathered by the ABA don’t just tell you the number of students that are employed and not employed, they also tell you the number that are employed in certain types of positions, such as “Employed – Bar Passage Required,” “Employed – J.D. Advantage,” “Employed – Law School/University Funded,” “Unemployed – Start Date Deferred,” etc. All of these terms have specific definitions that can be found here, along with an explanation of how the ABA categorizes short term and long term positions and describes the various employment sectors, like business, government, and public interest.
Using the Data
The ABA’s employment statistics can give you a lot of insight into how a particular law school’s graduates are doing in the job market. Besides simply telling you whether alumni are employed after graduation, the information can help you see where and what type of jobs they are landing. If you’re interested in working in a particular field – for example, if you know you want to obtain a judicial clerkship – these statistics can help you see which schools are placing the most number of graduates in that sector. Similarly, if you’re interested in working in a particular location, this data may help you narrow down which schools are most likely to help you find a job in that state.
It is, however, important to keep in mind that these employment outcomes are ultimately just numbers. They may be able to give you a general sense of a law school’s employment rate, but they aren’t necessarily representative of the individual experience you will have at a particular school. Thus, while employment outcomes should be a key consideration when choosing a law school, they shouldn’t be the only consideration. Cost, location, size, special programs, and many other qualities should also factor into your choice of law school.
It may seem like there is a lot to consider when choosing a law school, but learning about all your options is usually exciting for prospective students. Once you’ve selected a law school and been admitted, the next step is to start preparing for the journey ahead. To help you arrive at orientation feeling prepared to take on the challenges of law school, sign up for Start Law School Right.
For more helpful advice, check out these articles:
- Things I Wish I Had Known Before Starting Law School
- Everything you Need to Know About Finding Your Law School
- 10 Books to Read Before Starting Law School
- Is Law School for You?
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