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Black and Native American Law Grads Left Behind on Employment (1)

Oct. 21, 2020, 3:22 PM; Updated: Oct. 21, 2020, 5:30 PM

The law school class of 2019 has achieved the highest overall employment rate in a decade, but Black and Native American attorneys benefited the least with the lowest share of jobs, a new survey says.

According to an annual study from the National Association for Law Placement that tracks law graduate jobs, Black graduates landed 17% fewer jobs that require bar passage than white graduates. Jobs that require passing the bar generally pay more than those that don’t.

The information in the survey dates from March 15 of this year, just as the coronavirus pandemic gained steam in the U.S. Employment rates will likely be further affected by the crisis, which has already delayed hiring in the legal industry and prompted belt-tightening due to new economic realities.

NALP said in 2019 graduates the employment rate reached 90.3%, surpassing the 89.3% notched by the class of 2018. The highest employment rate before that was 91.9% in 2007, just prior to the Great Recession, according to NALP, which tracks the job outcomes of graduates of ABA-accredited law schools.

“I find it particularly discouraging this year to have to report employment findings that highlight stark disparities by race and ethnicity, among other demographic markers,” said James Leipold, NALP’s executive director, who oversaw the study. He added, that “this should serve as a wake-up call to everyone involved in legal education and the legal profession.”

The results come as law firms have pledged to be more active in recruiting and retaining women and minorities even as the numbers of non-white attorneys in Big Law, especially equity partners, remain low. More firms, including most recently Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, have hired diversity directors to broaden their outreach to minority lawyers.

Some firms have also made public pledges to hit particular benchmarks for diversify their workforce in the years ahead.

The new NALP data reflects the uphill climb to close the gender pay gap in the legal industry as well. The Class of 2019 women had a 90.6% employment rate, but clocked in a median salary of $70,000 compared to $75,000 for male graduates.

The national median salary for the 2019 grads was $72,500, up 3.6% from the 2018 class level, and exceeded the previous all-time high of $72,000 for the classes of 2008 and 2009.

But the starting associate starting salary of $190,000 now found at many Big Law firms was listed by only 35% of the responding 2019 graduates.

Other study findings included:

  • Non-binary graduates had lower salaries, $67,500, and were nearly four times as likely to have a public interest job than their counterparts.
  • Graduates identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual were almost twice as likely to be employed in public interest positions than graduates overall (15.7% compared to 8%).
  • Graduate with disabilities had a lower employment rate (84.9%) compared to other grads, and also a lower percentage (64.1%) were employed in bar passage required jobs.
  • More than half of graduates who found employment, 55.2%, landed private practice jobs, 0.4 percentage points more than in the previous year. This is the closest a graduating class has come to matching the 55.9% high for private practice employment reached in 2009.
(Clarified timing of survey in third paragraph )

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson in Washington at egolson1@gmail.com
To contact the editor on this story: Rebekah Mintzer in New York at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com
Chris Opfer in New York at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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