February 21, 2024

A graduate holds their mortarboard cap in Los Angeles, California, US, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon

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  • Employment for 2021 law grads reached 91.9%, matching most recent record set by 2007 class
  • Median salary hit record $80,000

(Reuters) – Demand for legal talent at large law firms drove employment and salary figures for the law school class of 2021 to historic peaks, according to new data released Thursday.

The overall employment rate for 2021 law school graduates increased to 91.9%, a record last reached by the class of 2007, according to figures released by the National Association for Law Placement.

The 2021 figure represents a 3.5-percentage-point increase from a pandemic-related dip to an 88.4% employment rate for the class of 2020.

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New grads taking jobs requiring passage of the bar exam grew to 78.2%, up from 74.6% for the class of 2020, and marking a record high point since NALP started using its current classifications in 2001.

The strong employment outcomes were driven by the largest law firms‘ hiring activity, said James Leipold, executive director of NALP.

There was “pent-up demand” for transactional work after early COVID-19 shutdowns, leading to accelerated and “super competitive” hiring for entry-level and other attorney roles, he said.

Leipold also pointed to multiple rounds of big law firm salary hikes in the past year, spurred by the competition for talent.

Many of the largest firms in the US increased annual salaries for associates at all levels this year, where first-year lawyers saw an increase in base pay from $205,000 to $215,000.

The median salary for attorneys at law firms of all sizes was $131,500 for the 2021 class, beating the previous record high of $130,000 set in 2009.

The 2021 law graduates’ overall median salary for all employment types was a record $80,000, up from $75,000 for the class of 2020.

Leipold said in a statement in the report that he anticipates the legal job market will stay strong for law students graduating in 2022 and 2023 due to factors including relatively flat class sizes and active summer associate recruiting at law firms.

But, he said in the statement, the 2023 graduating class could “begin to face some headwinds” if the US enters a recession. Large law firms are already facing rising expenses and some drop in demand, he said.

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Sara Merken

Thomson Reuters

class=”text__text__1FZLe text__dark-grey__3Ml43 text__regular__2N1Xr text__small__1kGq2 body__base__22dCE body__small_body__2vQyf author-bio__description__3uv33″>Sara Merken reports on privacy and data security, as well as the business of law, including legal innovation and key players in the legal services industry. Reach her at [email protected]

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