Survey finds employment rate high among recent law grads, but paints troubling mental health picture

High mobility has been consistent among recent law grads through the last few years

Survey finds employment rate high among recent law grads, but paints troubling mental health picture
Fiona Trevelyan Hornblower, president and CEO, and Jennifer Mandery, vice-president for research, of the NALP Foundation

A new survey of recent law graduates shows a high employment rate and healthy level of job satisfaction, but also indicates that many young lawyers are struggling with mental health and well-being.

The “Law School Alumni Employment and Satisfaction” survey is the sixth joint study between the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) and the NALP Foundation. They polled 363 lawyers in Canada, from five law schools, who graduated in 2019.

The results showed that the 2019 class has been mobile. Sixty-five percent of the respondents said they had already held two or more positions since graduating. Fourteen percent said they were actively seeking a new role, but that number has declined since the last survey.

Overall, the employment rate among respondents was 97 percent.

“What we're seeing is that these folks, at a relatively junior point in there in their careers – only three years out – are already finding professional satisfaction as members of the legal profession,” says Fiona Trevelyan Hornblower, president and CEO of the NALP Foundation.

The number who reported the highest level of satisfaction – 38 percent – has risen slightly from the previous survey, where it stood at 35 percent.

But the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic and high levels of educational debt is weighing on many respondents. Fifty-five percent said the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health and well-being, which is a decrease from the last survey. Sixty-one percent of the class of 2018 reported this negative impact from COVID. The pandemic’s adverse mental health impact was also felt more strongly by female than male respondents.

“Although the level did drop slightly this year for those reporting that, it's still very high,” says Jennifer Mandery, the NALP Foundation's vice-president of research. “Specifically with educational debt; the higher the level of debt, we see a more adverse impact.”

The pandemic’s adverse mental health impact was also felt more strongly by female than male respondents. “That's something we're going to want to be attentive to as a profession,” says Trevelyan Hornblower.

When asked about what factors drove their satisfaction with current roles, the respondents rated “support for well-being/mental health” next to last.  

The study found that many more women than men were uprooting their careers because of their spouse got a new job. Nearly five times as many female as male alumni said their job change was due to their partner’s relocation.

Mobility has been high consistently in the NALP Foundation’s studies, says Trevelyan Hornblower. Leading the causes for switching roles was better compensation and bonuses, which was the rationale for 54 percent of respondents. Concerns over attitude and fitness for the old position was the reason for 41 percent, and desire for mentors or role models was for 40 percent.

“What we're seeing is certainly there's a financial driver here,” she says. “But there are also concerns about organizational culture and their own personal development and how a firm is positioning them and supporting them as they grow in their careers.”

Since the last study, the number of law grads who have hybrid work schedules has risen to 77 percent from 63 percent.

Trevelyan Hornblower adds that the NALP Foundation is always looking for more law school alumni to join the study and invites additional law schools to participate, so the data can be more robust and helpful for the profession.

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