I posted a link to the new ABA employment numbers on TLS yesterday, and some clever person transformed them into a handy Google document. (Update: see also this very useful bar graph). The categories are percentage of graduates with long term employment of all types nine months after graduation (legal and non-legal; both federal and state judicial clerkships are counted as long-term employment in the ABA numbers), percentage of grads with jobs with firms of more than 50 lawyers + federal clerkships, percentage of grads with jobs with firms of more than 250 lawyers + federal clerkships, and then a catch-all category (51+/Fed/PI/Academia/Government) that tries to include every graduate who got anything resembling a legal or quasi-legal non-temp job other than with a small (less than 50 lawyers) firm.
The data are worth browsing at length, and I'm just going to flag a couple of points.
(1) Given law school reporting methods, "long-term" employment is in one sense a meaningless category, while in another it can be revelatory. It's meaningless in the sense that Yale and Drake have almost exactly the same outcome in the category (90.34% and 89.51% of 2010 grads with long-term employment as of 2/15/2011). But Drake's numbers are based on 54.5% of its grads listing themselves as working either as solos, with firms of ten or fewer lawyers, or in "business and industry," (trans: retail) while Yale has 4.4% of its class in these categories, all of whom with the exception of one grad are in the business and industry category, which at Yale means McKinsey rather than Home Depot. Schools 7-15 ranked by percentage of graduates with long-term employment nine months after graduation:
ALABAMA, UNIVERSITY OF
PENNSYLVANIA, UNIVERSITY OF
MICHIGAN, UNIVERSITY OF
HOUSTON, UNIVERSITY OF
TULSA, UNIVERSITY OF
WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY
CALIFORNIA-BERKELEY, UNIVERSITY OF
So in the sense of being a positive indicator of something "long-term employment" is obviously a meaningless metric.
(2) In another sense -- as a red flag -- "long-term employment" percentages are revelatory. Look at some of the schools where somewhere between one in five and two in five grads don't have "long-term employment" nine months after graduation, keeping mind that this category includes every paid form of employment, legal and non-legal, that does not have a definite term of less than one year (again judicial clerkships count as long-term):
Wash U St. Louis
These are all "top 30" schools -- six are in the top 20. At all of them, a huge percentage of the graduating class is functionally unemployed nine months after graduation. What seems to be happening at these sorts of schools is that a big percentage of the class isn't getting any sort of real legal job, but continues to hang on in the hope of doing so, while at the Drakes and Tulsas large numbers of people either take $40K jobs with three-lawyer family law firms or simply give up on a law job altogether and enter "business and industry."
Of course there are a lot of low-ranked law schools with horrible "long-term" employment numbers as well, which I would gather means that at those schools even the $40K small firm job isn't an option for most of the class.
(3) These stats put an exclamation point on how few law graduates are getting jobs that even arguably justify taking out $125K in high interest non-dischargeable loan debt (this is roughly the mean educational debt load for this spring's graduating law school class). Such jobs are largely limited to the 50+ lawyer firm plus federal clerkship category -- indeed in this regard that category is no doubt over-inclusive -- yet a total of 25 law schools sent even 30% of their 2010 class into such jobs. Meanwhile the median percentage for all law schools in regard to what might be called the percentage of graduates who had what would be acceptable salary outcomes relative to the current average cost of law school attendance was 8.75%.