Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pay is down, debt is up for law grads in a depressed (and depressing) jobs market.

via ABA Journal
The erosion in BigLaw jobs is depressing the salaries for all class of 2011 law graduates, according to new statistics from NALP–The Association for Legal Career Professionals.  
Law grads from the class of 2011 are earning median pay of $60,000, a 5 percent drop from 2010 and a 17 percent drop since 2009. Average pay is $78,653, a 15 percent drop since 2009. The figures are for grads who found full-time employment in jobs lasting at least a year. 
The drop in starting pay is even more pronounced when only private practice jobs are considered, according to a press release. Median pay for 2011 law grads in private practice is $85,000, an 18 percent drop from 2010, when the median was $104,000, and a 35 percent drop since 2009, when the median was $130,000. Average pay in private practice is $97,821, a 15 percent drop since 2009. 
Emphasis added. As I wrote about in my last post, the legal job market sucks. Big time. Especially for the Class of 2011.  All of the above figures would be dramatically worse if the numbers accounted for all the unemployed or underemployed grads who make even less money, or none at all. According to NALP Executive Director James Leipold, "[i]n many ways the class of 2011 bore the worst brunt of the impact of the recession on the entry-level legal job market, particularly in the large firm market." New law school grads are leaving schools to find a depressing lack of employers eager to train new, inexperienced attorneys. And even those who do find work are often forced to accept positions outside their desired practice area, on a "probationary" basis, or for considerably lower pay.

But, hell, you say, I'd love to be making that kind of money! Aren't these snot-nosed law grads just whining about the "horror" of not making six figures? Do they deserve to make six figures? Suck it up, kiddos! Right? Well sure, that's true to some extent, everyone is suffering in this economy, but consider this: the average student loan debt of a 2011 law graduate is nearly $125,000. And that doesn't include debt from undergraduate loans. Monthly payments on that much debt run about $1,500. For ten years. That, ladies and gents, is a mortgage payment. Oh, and it doesn't come with a place to live. Recent reports are showing that new law school and college graduates are putting off buying homes (and getting married, but I digress) due to high debt and dwindling employment prospects. Considering the big student loan payments, rent (or the emotional cost of moving back in with your parents), and the tax burden that comes with higher income levels, the average pay of $78-$97K isn't quite as awesome as it sounds. Oh, and did I mention that lots of students are forced to take positions that they don't really want?

Meanwhile, "[s]tarting pay of $160,000 is still the norm at large law firms ..." For the lucky few, life is still good.

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