The employment rate for recent law-school graduates has fallen to its lowest level since 1994, according to figures released on Thursday by the National Association for Law Placement. Only 85.6 percent of 2011 graduates whose employment status was known had jobs nine months after leaving law school.
That rate, which has declined every year since 2008, was two percentage points below the previous year's employment level. The figure is based on data submitted by schools and includes graduates working part time and in jobs that don't require a law degree. (Recently, more than a dozen law schools have been sued and 20 more threatened with legal action over their allegedly inflated job-placement rates.)
According to a report from the association, only 65.4 percent of the 2011 graduates who reported their employment status were working in positions for which they had to pass a bar examination. More than nine percentage points below the 2008 rate, that proportion is the lowest the association has ever measured.
"For members of the Class of 2011, caught as they were in the worst of the recession, entering law school in the fall of 2008 just as Lehman Brothers collapsed ... the entry-level job market can only be described as brutal," the association's executive director, James G. Leipold, said in a written statement.
"When this class took their LSAT's and applied for law school, there were no signs that the legal economic boom was showing any signs of slowing," he said, "and yet by the time they graduated, they faced what was arguably the worst entry-level legal-employment market in more than 30 years."
Fewer than half of the employed graduates were in private practice, a share that has also been steadily declining.
The only glimmer of good news in the report was Mr. Leipold's suggestion that the job market may have bottomed out and might begin creeping up over the next few years.
The shrinking job market and declining applications have prompted some law schools to cut their incoming class sizes, while others have moved ahead with plans to expand.