Amid Difficult Labor Market, Class of 2020 Sets Record-Breaking Employment Rates

Dec. 8, 2021

87.2 percent of 2020 graduates had high-quality legal jobs 10-months after graduation.

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Amid unfamiliar online learning environments and rescheduled bar examinations, graduates from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law class of 2020 exceeded expectations with record-breaking employment rates more than a year since walking across the virtual stage.   

At graduation, 61.7 percent of the class had full-time, long-term jobs that required bar passage or for which their JD was an advantage – an all-time high – and 87.2 percent were employed in high-quality legal jobs 10-months after graduation, the highest such employment rate in college history by more than 5 percent and nearly 10 percentage points higher than the national average for the Class of 2020.  

Tellingly, the rate of graduates who were unemployed and seeking work was 4.2 percent (representing only four graduates) significantly below the national rate of 8.4%.  

Historically, a plurality of graduates enter private practice, a trend that was unchanged for the Class of 2020. Private practice opportunities cover a wide spectrum of global, national, regional and local firms of various sizes. The percentage of students who entered judicial clerkships has also consistently remained high with 23.4 percent of the graduating class obtaining such positions, compared to just 9.5 percent nationally. The University of Arizona Law Career Development Office also noted an increase in graduates pursuing public interest positions this year compared to years past.   

A lot of it has to do with how much the College, and Dean Miller in particular, has prioritized affordable education for our students,” explained Shannon TrebbeAssistant Dean of Career Development and Professor of Practice. “Graduating with little or no student debt really frees up our graduates to take jobs that are meaningful to them.” 

Enhanced Support 

The class of 2020 entered into a tumultuous job market thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, a total of 77.4 percent of 2020 graduates from accredited law schools were employed in full-time, long-term bar passage required or JD advantage jobs 10 months after graduation, a decrease from 2019 which saw 80.6 percent of graduates employed in similar jobs. Despite the difficult year, University of Arizona Law graduates excelled at securing quality positions in a variety of fields and sectors, a feat helped along by the college’s Career Development Office.  

“This accomplishment was definitely a team effort, and it never could have happened without everyone in the office working hard,” noted Trebbe. “Our career advisers have done an amazing job at forming relationships with these graduates over time and our employer outreach team has been outstanding about soliciting more opportunities earlier.” 

The Career Development Office has made several changes over the past few academic years to enhance support services.  The office was restructured so that students were placed with the same career adviser from the time they started out as 1Ls through graduation, enabling the team to form close relationships with students and to begin strategizing early on about how best to achieve their professional goals. 

In response to the fact that the majority of JD students come from outside of Arizona, and a significant share from outside of the United States, the Career Development team has also set their sights on expanding the reach and reputation of University of Arizona Law graduates geographically. The office now offers virtual options for all interviewing programs, making it easier for employers in different states to participate. One of the impacts of COVID has been an increased willingness and desire on the part of employers to conduct at least initial interviews virtually – a trend of enormous value to Arizona Law students.  

In addition, the Career Development Office created an externship program targeting employers who have not hired graduates from the college before, allowing them a risk-free preview of what it’s like to work with a student. Working with Professor Ellen Bublick, the Office has a focused strategy for Phoenix employers as part of the Phoenix Externship Program (PEP), which allows students to attend in-person externships and classes in Phoenix. The team’s next strategy in expanding the college’s national footprint is to establish an “extern anywhere” program where students can extern in-person anywhere in the country while taking their classes remotely. 

An Informed Approach 

We try to help our students put their job search in perspective. The typical perspective is that they get a job their first summer, they get another job their second summer, and then they graduate and get their ‘final, permanent’ job. The end. And, of course, their first post-graduate job is not then end at all—it’s really just the beginning of their career,” said Trebbe. 

Trebbe understands first-hand what it’s like to graduate during an economic downturn. A University of Arizona College of Law alum, Trebbe graduated in 2010 to one of the worst labor markets in recent history coming on the heels of the 2008 recession. The experience of searching for a job amid massive layoffs and a decrease in demand for lawyers informed Trebbe’s approach to counseling graduates in the class of 2020. 

So much of the job search is about not getting discouraged and finding creative pathways to where you want to be, even if your path may be different than what everyone is saying is the traditional way,” described Trebbe. “I hope we’re able to bring some of that perspective in when helping students through difficult times.”  

The outlook continues to be positive for the class of 2021. At-graduation employment rates in May of 2021 were the highest they have ever been by over fourteen percent, and 80.6% of students who took the bar exam early in February of their 3L year passed.  

Class of 2020 Employers Highlights 

  • Arizona Supreme Court 
  • Arizona Attorney General's Office (Civil Rights Division) 
  • Arizona Court of Appeals 
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation 
  • Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP 
  • May, Potenza, Baran, & Gillespie 
  • Samsung Electronics 
  • Step Up to Justice 
  • U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona 
  • Vinson & Elkins