Sixty-eight new lawyers took the attorney’s oath Thursday in Carbondale, as part of the 1,605 who were sworn in to practice law in Illinois during ceremonies across the state.
The newly minted lawyers are entering an uncertain job market.
“The fact of the matter is, the employment rate nationwide for the class of 2014, ten months after graduation was 86.7 percent,” Mike Ruiz, dean of career services at Southern Illinois University School of Law, told the Madison County Record.
The National Association for Law placement annually releases employment rates for recent law school graduates. In 2014, the organization changed its data collection period from nine months post graduation to 10 months, according NALP, so even though employment rose 2.2 percent from last year, the numbers are not directly comparable. Further, the class of 2014 nationwide was smaller than that of 2013, according to NALP.
"These data present a picture of a complex employment market, and it is virtually impossible to tease apart the twin forces of a shrinking class and an overall job market that continues to improve (albeit modestly), but it is clear that the shrinking class size did indeed have a positive impact on the overall employment rate, and that is a dynamic that will likely continue to be in play for the next three graduating classes, each of which is projected to continue to come down in size in fairly dramatic steps," NALP Executive Director James Leipold said in a statement regarding the 2014 numbers.
Still, Ruiz said, an 86.7 percent employment rate is something to be happy about.
“That’s not bad,” Ruiz told the Record. “That’s not bad by anybody’s viewpoint.”
As the baby-boomer lawyers age into retirement, Ruiz said it would provide even more job opportunities for new attorneys.
“The theory would be, as lawyers retire, there needs to be someone to replace them. At some point there’s going to be some class that’s going to luck out,” Ruiz told the Record. "Some class, when they graduate, there’s going to be all these jobs for them.”
Law school enrollment has declined nationwide the past few years, according to Southern Illinois University School of Law Dean Cynthia Fountaine.
She said her school has seen fluctuations of entering-class enrollment between 120 and 140 in the last five years, but there’s hope for the next class size to be larger.
“It is too early to make predictions about next year,” Fountaine said, “but LSAC reports that there has been an increase in the number of people taking the LSAT this fall.”
According to Ruiz, those low enrollment numbers mean people who are on the fence about applying to law school need to be applying, despite the job market.
“This is a great time to apply to law school. There’s less competition and there’s more money as far as financial aid to be given to you,” he said.
“Its’ a good time to be applying to law school. If you apply you’re probably going to be accepted into more law schools than you ever would have been ten years ago. And, at some point at least the theory is, some class is going to be the lucky class to graduate and get all those jobs because the market has been down for so long.”