New report notes 94% employment rate for law graduates

Despite the clouds hanging over the legal profession right now, a new report suggests law schools have been doing a good job of providing students with an education that leads to a job.

The report released by the Council of Ontario Universities quotes data from the Ontario university graduate survey that tracked employment rates by field of study two years after graduation. For law, the employment rate was almost 94 per cent. A few areas, such as veterinary medicine, therapy and rehabilitation, theology, pharmacy, optometry, forestry, and dentistry, had employment rates of 100 per cent.

The council report offers an alternative perspective on the popular perception that university degrees have become less valuable over time. It notes, for example, Ontario university graduates have higher employment rates and better salaries that those with any other level of education.

Between 2002 and 2012, for example, it shows employment grew by 49 per cent for university graduates compared to 30 per cent for those with college diplomas. In addition, the report found university graduates were more likely to be working in their fields. Two years after university, 80 per cent were doing something closely or somewhat related to their fields. For college graduates, the number was 66 per cent.

The report follows a study by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce last year that found law school still yields a big return on investment. A legal education is second only to medicine in how well it pays off, according to the CIBC report, which noted the return for graduates in fields such as law was much higher than for life sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

The latest report comes as the legal field has seen a fair bit of pessimism as of late. With Heenan Blaikie LLP collapsing this month, a Law Times poll found almost 70 per cent of respondents felt the situation there was a sign of bigger problems to come in the legal industry.

For Osgoode Hall Law School professor Gus Van Harten, the findings that law school graduates fare well in the job market aren’t surprising.

“I don’t think a law degree at least at this stage is a mistake,” he says, noting those who don’t end up practising can often get other jobs such as policy advisers with government.

For Van Harten, who wrote an opinion piece  in Law Times this week about looming changes to the licensing process, a key concern is about the supply of lawyers and the quality of legal services they’ll be providing. With the Law Society of Upper Canada indicating it will consider applications from other law schools to follow the new licensing approach adopted by Lakehead University, he wonders what that means for supply and quality.

“The logic of it is we wouldn’t have articling anymore,” he says, referring to the plan that won’t require Lakehead graduates to article.

So while the latest report is positive on job prospects, Van Harten says it’s a “broader issue than the economic calculus of the law student.

“The fact you’ve got a high employment rate is certainly good. But what kind of employment rate are we talking about?” he asks.

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