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June 25, 2014

Things looking up for law school grads

NEW YORK — This might sound weird, but here goes: Now might be a pretty good time to think about law school.

Earlier this month the National Association for Law Placement released its first look at how the J.D. class of 2013 fared on the job market. Overall, it wasn't pretty. For the sixth year running, the employment rate fell, as schools produced a record number of graduates for an industry without the room for them.

There was, however, a nugget of good news buried in the data. While the employment rate dropped, grads still found more jobs overall than in 2012. And as the Wall Street Journal noted earlier this week, big law firms — the kinds offering those fat, six-figure salaries that law schools like to advertise — continued to pick up their recruiting. Employers might not have been able to absorb the crush of lawyers who left campus, but hiring seems to have at least stabilized.

And that's a huge deal. Thanks to the historic enrollment crash that has shrunk law school classes during the past few years, it means that graduates might soon be looking at a shockingly strong job market.

Here is the key number to keep in mind: 36,000. That is roughly the number of new J.D.s we should expect to graduate in 2016. Getting to that figure is pretty straightforward: In the fall of 2013, 39,700 students enrolled in law school. Given that about 10 percent of each law school class generally drops out, we should expect no more than 36,000 to reach commencement.

In comparison, 46,776 law students graduated in 2013. So we're talking about a potential 23 percent plunge.

With less competition it should be far easier for graduates to find decent work.

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