The Jobs Crisis at Our Best Law Schools Is Much, Much Worse Than You Think

Jordan Weissmann
View photos

(Wikimedia Commons)

The barren job market for law school grads has become a familiar reality by now. But here's something that tends to get lost in the story: The problem isn't just about no-name law schools churning out JD's nobody wants to hire. Even graduates at some of the country's top programs are struggling. 

At this point, it seems, there are only a small handful of schools that could reasonably be called safe bets.

The American Bar Association recently released its annual collection of jobs placement data from all 202 accredited law schools, and the big picture was, as expected, dreadful. Nine months after graduation, just 56 percent of the class of 2012 had found stable jobs in law -- meaning full-time, long-term employment in a position requiring bar passage, or a judicial clerkship, i.e. the sorts of jobs people go to law school for in the first place. The figure had improved just 1 percent compared to the class of 2011. 

Meanwhile, a full 27.7 percent were underemployed, meaning they were either in short-term or part-time jobs, jobless and hunting for work, or enrolled (read:burning cash) in another degree program. 

At some of the most prestigious law schools in the country, the numbers were only marginally better. Below, I've listed the top 25 programs in the U.S. News rankings,* along with their underemployment score as calculated by Law School Transparency. Past the top 9, underemployment hits double digits. Outside of the top 15, it mostly hovers around 20 percent.*  

View photos

Could this just be a sign the U.S. News rankings are way off and don't really reflect the job market? In part, yes. The legal industry pays an absurd amount of attention to the magazine's annual list. But after going back through the data and ranking the 25 schools with the lowest underemployment, I found that only 15 of them could be found in the U.S. News Top 25. The other 10 included schools like number #76 LSU and number #126 Campbell University. 

View photos


In the end, though, the numbers are still bad no matter how you define the "good schools." Only 31 institutions had an underemployment rate under 15 percent. Just 66, or less than a third, have an underemployment rate below 20 percent.* And in some cases, the numbers actually obscure just how tough the market is. Many schools have taken to hiring their own graduates, or funding fellowships for them to help smooth their transition into the working world. One of the big reasons the University of Virginia has the lowest underemployment ranking is that 15 percent of its graduates are in jobs funded by the school. That's a heck of a lot better than leaving them out to dry, and some of those fellowships, which include jobs on Capitol Hill and with nonprofits, will likely lead to bigger and better opportunities. But it gives you a sense of the challenges grads -- and their schools -- are facing. 

If we were talking about undergraduate students, these numbers wouldn't seem quite as awful. But JD's consistently dive six figures into debt and give up three years of other opportunities for an education that prepares them with a very specific, not-so-easily transferred skill set (please forget the old saw that "you can do anything with a law degree"). There are some schools where the investment practically always pays off -- a Harvard or University of Virginia degree is still looking good these days -- but at many schools, reputation trumps results. 


*With a little free time and some basic excel skills, you can find play with the list yourself by downloading the data here. And for more fun with the numbers, be sure to check out the National Law Journal's extensive breakdown

More From The Atlantic

  • 10 Worst Jobs for the Future, 2016

    10 Worst Jobs for the Future, 2016

    Thinkstock The labor market is steadily improving, with U.S. unemployment at its lowest level since 2008, yet some occupations continue to experience a downward slide. Careers in the manufacturing sector, for example, have been disappearing for decades as plants become more efficient and jobs move to factories overseas. Other careers are falling victim to changing tastes and changing technologies. To help job seekers avoid some of these dying professions, we analyzed 784 popular occupations, looking at which have been shedding positions over the past decade and which are projected to continue that trend into the next decade. We considered salaries, too, and favored promising careers that require

  • Hiker's dramatic video of two snakes fighting reveals rare sight

    Hiker's dramatic video of two snakes fighting reveals rare sight

    Most hikers would hightail it upon spotting two snakes fighting on a path. Arkansas hiker Dawn Kelly decided to record the snakes on her smartphone instead, creating the kind of video most of us would rather watch from a safe distance. The unusual thing about this snake battle royale, however, isn't that Kelly managed to record it unscathed, but that the two snakes, a copperhead and a cottonmouth, shouldn't have been fighting at all. According to Alabama Auburn University herpetologist David Steen, male snakes often fight in something called a "combat dance" over female snakes. But until now, no one has recorded evidence of two different species of male snakes fighting, according to the BBC.

  • Star Wars Death Star's famed feature was a complete accident

    Star Wars Death Star's famed feature was a complete accident

    Most of us make mistakes like scraping our car misjudging the Starbucks drive-thru. When Colin Cantwell makes a mistake, legends are born. Cantwell, 84, was a concept artist and spacecraft designer on the original "Star Wars" film, at the time called "The Star Wars." That's certainly not all he's done, but for some sci-fi fans, that alone would be enough. In a Reddit Ask Me Anything on Tuesday, Cantwell discussed his contributions to space and sci-fi history, including a certain Death Star trench that turned out to be a happy accident for the Rebel Alliance. "George Lucas gave me the project of designing a 'Death Star,'" Cantwell wrote on Reddit. "I didn't originally plan for the Death Star to

  • Wealth of people in their 30s has 'halved in a decade'
    BBC News

    Wealth of people in their 30s has 'halved in a decade'

    Today's 30-something generation has missed out on house price increases and better pensions, according to research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The think tank found that people born in the early 1980s were the first post-war group not to have higher incomes in early adulthood than those born in the preceding decade. This generation's comparatively lower financial wealth was down to a combination of lower home-ownership rates, less access to final salary-type pension schemes, and stagnant wages, experts said. The IFS included in its definition of "wealth" property owned, financial assets like savings, and wealth held in private pensions - minus any debts a person may have such as student loans or credit cards.

  • How new technology could replace millions of call center jobs in the Philippines

    How new technology could replace millions of call center jobs in the Philippines

    You need help with your bank account or advice about your mortgage. You call the help line. And then, after a lengthy wait, tapping more information into your phone and being transferred to the right department, you reach a call center worker, an actual human being. By that point, however, you might not be feeling warm and patient. Usually, the person absorbing your frustration is in the Philippines—the call center capital of the world. (For years, India had more call center workers than any other nation, but more recently U.S. companies began relocating to the Philippines, where people speak American English, rather than the British variety.) The country is 12 or 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard

  • News

    Winterize Your Lawnmower in 2 Easy Steps

    When storing your lawnmower for the winter, Consumer Reports' experts say these two tips are must-dos to ensure your mower will be up and running when you need it in the spring.

  • Business
    U.S.News & World Report

    8 Ways to Tell If You're in the Middle Class

    Are you considered part of the middle class? Here are eight tests to determine if you're still middle class. If your family of three earns between $41,869 and $125,609 a year, you're in the middle class, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center analysis.

  • What Donald Trump Doesn’t Seem to Understand About US Nuclear Weapons
    The Fiscal Times

    What Donald Trump Doesn’t Seem to Understand About US Nuclear Weapons

    Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton didn’t agree on much during their acerbic debate faceoff earlier this week, but one of the topics on which they found common ground was nuclear weapons. Then he went on to criticize America’s nuclear capabilities compared to those of Russia. What Trump saw “the other night” might have been a 60 Minutes report last Sunday that suggested the risk of nuclear conflict was rising as Vladimir Putin’s Russia looks west, sees weakness and thinks that in a conflict with NATO, a nuclear strike might shock the alliance into submission.

  • American Airlines' new uniforms causing hives, headaches
    Chicago Business Journal

    American Airlines' new uniforms causing hives, headaches

    With great fanfare, American Airlines introduced new uniforms on Sept. 20. Now the outfits are giving the world's largest carrier and hundreds of its employees real headaches. Really. Sources report that more than 400 AA flight attendants have informed their union and company management that they have broken out in hives and begun to experience itching and headaches since they first slipped into the new uniforms — the first new designs for many in the airline's employee ranks in decades. An AA spokeswoman confirmed that the company has received complaints about the new uniforms, which the company, at this juncture, believes may be related to a wool allergy among some affected employees The spokeswoman

  • Jack Bogle on the retirement crisis, Wells Fargo's crackup, and 'Hamilton'
    The Street

    Jack Bogle on the retirement crisis, Wells Fargo's crackup, and 'Hamilton'

    PHILADELPHIA -- Jack Bogle, the founder of Vanguard, fired off last year about the presidential race, saying "Donald Trump and I are kind of antithetical." Bogle wrote a book called Enough, about how readers should consider financial success in light of larger personal success. Meanwhile, Never Enough is the title of a biography of Donald Trump by Michael D'Antonio. But at this year's Bogleheads meetup -- a gathering of Bogle admirers who get together to talk about index funds and visit the Vanguard headquarters -- "the T-word" was banned as a topic by the moderators. (And a few attendees wore pins saying "Jack Bogle for President" -- a prize from a prior Bogleheads meetup.) Jack Bogle still

  • 'I interviewed over 100 people at Goldman Sachs, and this was the biggest mistake job candidates made'
    Business Insider

    'I interviewed over 100 people at Goldman Sachs, and this was the biggest mistake job candidates made'

    Before cofounding Solemates, a brand of women’s shoe-care products, in 2009, Becca Brown worked at Goldman Sachs for almost six years. Brown, who has a bachelor’s from Harvard University and an MBA from Columbia, spent a lot of time interviewing job candidates at Goldman, where she held various roles, including analyst, wealth adviser, and chief of staff. “I interviewed anywhere from 20 to 30 job candidates a year.

  • Behind the life and death of a star money manager accused of insider trading
    Business Insider

    Behind the life and death of a star money manager accused of insider trading

    About a year before Sanjay Valvani's wife found him dead inside his Brooklyn Heights home, the star money manager learned he was under investigation for insider trading. Valvani drove profits at Visium Asset Management, an $8 billion New York hedge fund that had been on the rise.

  • In Lawsuit, More Young Women Accuse Trump of Being a Sexist Pig
    The Fiscal Times

    In Lawsuit, More Young Women Accuse Trump of Being a Sexist Pig

    Donald Trump’s tactically dubious decision to continue his attacks on a former Miss Universe over her weight gain following a disastrous performance in the first presidential debate have caused the question of his treatment of women to flare up yet again. The latest flare-up apparently prompted the Los Angeles Times to go digging through depositions filed as part of a class action lawsuit against a Trump golf club in California in 2012, where reporters unearthed multiple examples of former Trump employees testifying that Trump had, both personally and through the atmosphere he created at his property, engaged in extremely sexist behavior toward women, some of them quite young, who worked for him. The lawsuit, Messerschmidt v. Trump National Golf Club, was not actually about sexual discrimination or mistreatment, but about work hours.

  • News
    Associated Press Videos

    Witness: Train Engineer Slumped Over

    An eyewitness to the commuter train crash in Hoboken Thursday morning says he saw the train's engineer slouched over the engine cab. (Sept. 29)

  • Why California’s New Retirement Savings Plan May Become a National Model

    Why California’s New Retirement Savings Plan May Become a National Model

    A new state retirement saving plan has just been launched in California, which could help millions of workers—both in the state and around the country. California Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday will sign a bill that establishes a state retirement savings plan called Secure Choice. The launch of an auto-IRA by California, the largest state, adds major momentum to a burgeoning movement to improve retirement security for workers without 401(k)s or other employer plans.

  • U.S. to OPEC: Don’t Drill, Baby, Don’t Drill
    Foreign Policy Magazine

    U.S. to OPEC: Don’t Drill, Baby, Don’t Drill

    OPEC, the dysfunctional cartel that has gifted case studies in the “prisoner’s dilemma” to business schools for years, unveiled an agreement to potentially cap oil production this year in what amounts to a last-ditch effort to shore up the price of crude after a costly two-year nosedive. If implemented — and all the details must still be worked out — such a cap on production could nudge crude prices higher. Since the OPEC oil embargo and gas lines of the early 1970s, the United States has tried to convince Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia, and other big producers to keep the taps open so that oil remains abundant and affordable.

  • Vanguard PRIMECAP Fund: An Active Fund Endorsed by an Index Fund King -- The Motley Fool
    The Motley Fool

    Vanguard PRIMECAP Fund: An Active Fund Endorsed by an Index Fund King -- The Motley Fool

    In 1984, Vanguard's founder, John Bogle, seeded the Vanguard PRIMECAP Fund with $100,000 of his own money. Over the following three decades, the actively managed Vanguard PRIMECAP Fund would turn his original investment into more than $5.5 million, or twice what it would have become if it were invested in the S&P 500. Its record of topping the market's return has persisted to this day. The Vanguard PRIMECAP Fund beat the S&P 500 by an average of three percentage points per year over the last 15 years with its stockpickers' simple strategy of buying out-of-favor growth companies and holding them for a decade, if not longer.  The recipe is simple: PRIMECAP hopes to identify companies that have

  • Report: DirecTV parent AT&T to phase out satellites in 3 to 5 years
    Denver Business Journal

    Report: DirecTV parent AT&T to phase out satellites in 3 to 5 years

    AT&T Inc. – which is expected to premier its streaming service DirecTV Now later this year – reportedly will work to make streaming its primary TV platform by 2020. AT&T last year acquired satellite-TV service DirecTV, which has a large Colorado footprint. Under the timeline, as reported by Bloomberg, DirecTV set-top boxes and satellite dishes could be obsolete in three to five years. Bloomberg cites people familiar with the plans. Dallas-based AT&T (NYSE: T) has claimed no allegiance to satellite TV technology from day one of its $48.5 billion acquisition of DirecTV, but it hasn’t publicly provided any definitive answers or a timeline on a migration of its 25 million video subscribers toward

  • Ex-Fox anchor's doctor backs sexual harassment claims against Ailes

    Ex-Fox anchor's doctor backs sexual harassment claims against Ailes

    An ex-Fox News anchor told her therapist that former network chairman Roger Ailes sexually harassed her, two years before she went public with the allegations that the company said she made up, a document filed in court on Wednesday said. Lawyers for Andrea Tantaros filed a statement in New York state court in Manhattan from the therapist, who said Tantaros spoke to her about the harassment in 2014. Tantaros sued Ailes and Fox News, a unit of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc in August.

  • Cramer: The negative effect that Deutsche Bank will have on your money

    Cramer: The negative effect that Deutsche Bank will have on your money

    With the price of oil up, Jim Cramer expected Thursday to be a great day for the market. Instead, worries over Deutsche Bank (XETRA: DBK-DE), the biggest bank in Germany, had ripple effects all over the world. "So if a company like Deutsche Bank may be having real problems, and that's sure how it looks with the stock down 6.7 percent today, then several things are going to play out, and none of them are good," Cramer said.

  • Boeing nears wide-body jet sale to Qatar Airways: sources

    Boeing nears wide-body jet sale to Qatar Airways: sources

    Qatar Airways is in the process of firming up the order, which it was due to have placed at July's Farnborough airshow, but which was delayed by the Qatari government in an effort to speed up U.S. approval for the fighter contract, one of the sources said. Bloomberg reported that the deal was for at least 30 Boeing 777 and 787 jets, valued at about $6.7 billion at list prices. Boeing declined to comment and Qatar Airways was not immediately available to comment.

  • TM

    Toyota drops diesel from new model, signals likely phase-out

    By Laurence Frost PARIS (Reuters) - Toyota has decided to drop diesel engines from its new C-HR compact in the wake of Volkswagen's emissions scandal and will probably do the same for future model renewals, the carmaker's second-ranking global executive said on Thursday. The Japanese automaker decided "within the last six to 12 months" not to offer a diesel version of the car, unveiled at the Paris auto show, because demand for the powertrain technology is falling sharply, Executive Vice President Didier Leroy told Reuters in an interview. If faced with a renewal decision today for other models up to and including the larger Auris compact, a Toyota staple, "we would probably do the same thing", Leroy added.

  • Sephora Is Launching Their Most Beautiful Class Yet

    Sephora Is Launching Their Most Beautiful Class Yet

    As if we didn't already have enough reasons to love Sephora (seriously, we could never name them all), the beauty retailer is doing something really incredible for women who are embarking on a major life transition. Putting a philanthropic spin on the beauty education they've been serving up in stores across the country, Sephora will launch what they are calling Classes for Confidence.

  • Robert Shiller: There's ‘always reason to worry’ about a coming collapse in housing
    Seana Smith

    Robert Shiller: There's ‘always reason to worry’ about a coming collapse in housing

    US home price gains slowed slighting in July, as many on Wall Street are speculating that the Federal Reserve will raise rates before the end of the year. The recent surge in real estate demand has pushed home prices near their pre-crisis peak in 2006, which is making it increasingly difficult for new home buyers to enter the market. Home sales fell 0.9% in August from the previous month, according to the National Association of Realtors.

  • Business

    No Bluffing: Amazon Is Shopping For A Logistics Partner

    In business as in poker, it can pay to be unpredictable. And make no mistake, bluffing works well in situations where the stakes are high and the bluffer has a better stack than opponents. That said, bluffing only works when your opponents don’t suspect you’re doing it, so the more analysts speculate about whether Amazon has the chips to bluff or bully companies the size of UPS and FedEx into making costly errors, the less it’s likely to happen. Amazon has been building out its logistics capacities at a scale indicative of a hedge strategy (it can sell its excess capacity by the piece or by the pound to whoever and whenever). Yet despite how fully hedged its bets may be, it remains vulnerable.