Employment Patterns of Law School Graduates (RR-00-01)
Joe G. Baker, Associate Professor of Economics, Southern Utah University

Executive Summary

Employment Patterns of Law School Graduates

Several recent studies have described the composition and characteristics of the lawyer population. These studies have focused mainly on practicing lawyers. However, nationwide, approximately 25% of law school graduates are not working in the legal field. Little is known about this group of individuals. The current study is intended to describe the employment patterns of all law school graduates regardless of their field of employment.

The 1993 National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG) collected data from a nationally representative cross-section of the population with college degrees, including approximately 3,200 with law degrees. These respondents represent the national population of approximately 946,000 individuals who held law degrees at the time of the survey.

Labor Force Participation and Utilization

  • Of the individuals who held law degrees in 1993, 91.3% were employed and 2.1% were unemployed. The labor force participation rate (LFPR) of this group was, therefore, 93.4%.

  • LFPRs are lower for women than men and lower for minorities than whites. Household structure affects LFPR in that marriage increases the LPFR of men and decreases the LFPR for women. The presence of children in the household also increases the LFPR for males. Among women, the presence of children decreases the LFPR for married women but increases it for single women.

  • The study reveals a low rate of labor force underutilization (the obverse of LFPR) for law school graduates. In 1993, only 2.1% of law school graduates were unemployed, 1.6% were involuntarily working outside their field, 1% were involuntarily working part-time, and 0.4% were “discouraged workers”; that is, not working or looking for work because of a lack of job prospects. In general, underutilization rates were higher for women, minorities, and new law school graduates.

Occupational Employment

  • The vast majority of the projected 863,000 employed law school graduates in 1993—81.4%—were working as lawyers and judges. The rates were virtually identical for females (81.2%) and males (81.4%). Among new graduates, 84.1 % were practicing law. These percentages mean that more than 160,000 law school graduates were not working as lawyers or judges in 1993.

  • The largest group of law school graduates working in “nonlegal” occupations in 1993 (almost 56,000, 5.6% of those employed) worked in executive management positions. Only about 6% of the law graduates who worked as executives viewed their law degrees as unrelated to their work.

  • Approximately 24,000 of the nation's law graduates were working as financial specialists or in work related to securities.

  • College law teaching accounted for 1.5% of those with law degrees in 1993. Women were more likely (2.4% were in academic law) than men to be law teachers.

Career Progression

  • The cross-sectional data provided by the NSCG database suggest that law school graduates tend to move away from the law as their careers progress. In 1993, approximately 84% of new graduates were working as lawyers and judges. However, the percentage had dropped to 70 among those who had been out of law school for 30 years.

  • The two most common occupations among individuals who leave the law appear to be management positions and academic law. As the number of years since graduation increased among the 1993 holders of law degrees, so did the percentages of them working in both of these professions.


  • The median income for all law school graduates in 1993 was $70,000. Median incomes were highest for those who were self-employed and lowest for those employed in the military sector.

  • There were sizeable differences in income among subgroups of law school graduates. The median income of women was $55,000, compared with $75,000 among men.

  • Compared with a median income of $70,000 among white law school graduates, blacks earned $60,000; Hispanics, $55,000; Asian/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans, $50,000. However, racial differences in median income varied substantially among employment sectors and, in some cases, were higher for minorities than whites. For example, black law school graduates employed by the U.S. government earned salaries that were 12% higher than the median for all law school graduates employed in this sector, and Hispanics earned 25% more than the median. In the not-for-profit sector, Asian/Pacific Islanders earned 18% more than the overall median for that sector.

  • The earnings of law school graduates not employed in the field of law varied according to their reasons for not practicing law. Law school graduates who left their degree field for promotions or higher pay typically earned more than the median for those who remained in the field. Those who left the law for involuntary reasons, such as family responsibilities or because they could not find a job in the law, tended to earn salaries that were lower than the median for law school graduates in legal positions.

Occupational Mobility

  • Between 1988 and 1993, 3.1% of law school graduates left the field of law and 1.8% who had been working outside of the field took jobs in the legal profession. Thus, the net mobility during this five-year period was a loss of l.3% of legal field employment in 1988.

  • Among this population, occupational mobility varied by career age, or years since receiving the law degree. Between 3 and 4% of those who held law degrees in 1993 reported having left the field within the first 15 years following their graduation. Mobility rates were lower for the period from 16 to 25 years since receipt of law degree, but increased for those who had been out of law school for 25 years or more. Those who had been out of law school for 30 years or more left the field of law at the highest rate.

  • The reason most frequently given for leaving the field by law school graduates was change in career and professional interests, suggesting that most occupational mobility out of the law is voluntary. However, reasons also seem to vary with career age. The most common reasons for leaving among new graduates, those who had been out of law school for between one and five years, were working conditions, changes in career and professional interests, and family-related issues. Among those who were out of law school for 30 years or more, 86% said they left the field as a result of change in career or professional interests.

Employment Patterns of Law School Graduates (RR-00-01)

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