William A. Chamberlain
William A. Chamberlain
Greg J. Miarecki
Greg J. Miarecki
Greg C. Anderson
Greg C. Anderson
Harold J. Krent
Harold J. Krent

The Beatles weren’t referencing Illinois law graduate employment percentages when they sang “it’s getting better all the time,” but the message certainly fits.

In data released by the American Bar Association and analyzed by the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Class of 2014 employment percentages for seven of the state’s nine schools increased since 2013.

The state’s overall legal employment rate rose 2 percentage points to 87.7 percent, a 4 percentage-point hike from the Class of 2011.

For more data on post-law school employment, view these charts»

Since 2011, when the ABA started collecting employment data broken into 10 categories, Illinois’ percentage of graduates employed in full-time, long-term jobs that require bar passage has risen each year, from 55.4 percent for the Class of 2011 to 64.5 percent for the Class of 2014.

The data measures employment nine months after graduation.

For the fourth straight year, the University of Chicago Law School leads the state in both overall employment and employment in which bar passage is required, followed in both categories for the fourth straight year by Northwestern University School of Law.

University of Chicago (98.1 percent), Northwestern (92.4) and the University of Illinois College of Law (90.8) are the state’s three schools with employment percentages above 90 percent.

Rounding out the list are Loyola University Chicago School of Law (89.3), Northern Illinois University College of Law (87.9), The John Marshall Law School (86.4), IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law (84.9), DePaul University College of Law (80.1) and Southern Illinois University School of Law (77.1).

U. of C. (92.4 percent) and Northwestern (81.4) remain first and second in the state for students finding full-time, long-term, bar-passage-required positions.

Those schools are followed by U. of I. (72.4), SIU (64.8), NIU (60.6), John Marshall (56.6), Loyola (55.7), DePaul (55.2) and IIT Chicago-Kent (51.7).

J.D.-advantage jobs on the rise

The last five schools, though, are the state’s top five schools for students who find employment in what’s known as “J.D. advantage” jobs, defined by the ABA as “a position for which the employer sought an individual with a J.D. … but which does not itself require bar passage or an active law license or involve practicing law.”

“We have been focusing on some specialty areas that are at the corners of law and other professions,” said Dean Harold J. Krent of IIT Chicago-Kent.

Krent cited four fields overlapping with the law that the school is encouraging students to explore: technology and knowledge management, for graduates who want to work for law firms as project managers who organize legal information; financial compliance; intellectual property consulting; and entrepreneurship, for graduates who want to either advise small business owners or start their own businesses.

Since 2011, IIT Chicago-Kent’s percentage of graduates who find employment in jobs requiring bar passage is down 8.3 percentage points, easily the largest decrease in Illinois in that time.

NIU is second with a 2.4 percentage-point decrease, and the nine law schools as a whole are up 5.1 percentage points.

However, IIT Chicago-Kent’s increase in J.D.-advantage employment since 2011 is tops in the state with an increase of 11.99 percent, followed closely by NIU at 11.98 percent.

Those are two of the state’s five schools that sent at least 15 percent of 2014 graduates into J.D.-advantage jobs.

Loyola leads the state in J.D.-advantage employment at 21 percent. In 2011, only Loyola and John Marshall were above 15 percent.

DePaul is focusing on financial and health-care compliance. NIU’s Class of 2014 sent graduates into compliance jobs in those two sectors plus athletics — officers working for university athletic departments to ensure compliance with NCAA regulations.

“A lot of students express interest in sports law,” said Greg C. Anderson, director of career opportunities and development at NIU since 2001. “This is one way to break into that field.”

In fact, one recurring theme at the National Association for Law Placement’s annual education conference in Chicago this week has been the evolution of legal job opportunities.

“Every 90 minutes, there’s a panel on alternative careers or careers that would fall into the J.D.-advantage category,” Anderson said.

“A lot of these J.D.-advantage jobs — they’re intellectually challenging, they make use of your law degree, they allow for a good life. ... When you’re a partner in a law firm, you’re an owner of the business. And all of these extra concerns and stress get added on to everything. That wouldn’t necessarily be the case with a J.D.-advantage job.”

Overall employment is up

As for overall employment versus the rest of the nation, the ABA plans to release a compilation of national statistics next week, a spokesperson said.

Since 2011, Illinois’ percentage of graduates becoming practicing attorneys has aligned closely with national figures: 65.4 to 62.4 percent, respectively.

However, the two groups are heading in opposite directions.

The percentage of non-Illinois ABA-accredited graduates taking jobs as attorneys is down 0.6 percentage points since 2011. Illinois graduates are up 4 percentage points.

Leading the way for Illinois during that time is the University of Illinois. The school’s overall employment rate is up 10.8 percentage points since 2011, and its proportion of students finding full-time long-term positions in which bar passage is required is up 21.4 percentage points. Both numbers are state highs.

U. of I. credits much of its improvement to its 2011 hiring of former Winston & Strawn LLP partner Greg J. Miarecki as executive assistant dean for career planning and professional development.

Miarecki has led the school’s hiring of four other practitioners as career counselors.

“I think having people who understand the practice of law is critical because it helps students understand the practice of law and helps them understand where they can leverage their competitive advantages,” Miarecki said.

Adding former law firm partners has been U. of I.’s first step in overhauling its approach to job placement. Other methods include a program for third-year students to take courses in Chicago at either the law school’s Chicago office or with partnering law firms.

“We try to maintain regular contact with employers and go the extra mile for them whenever we can,” Miarecki said.

DePaul has also added counselors. The school hired William A. Chamberlain from Northwestern in 2012 to become assistant dean for law career services and has since added another counselor, increasing its total from three to five.

That increase combined with a class size that’s 22 percent smaller since 2012 — from 368 to 286 last year — means more personal attention for students. Those relationships lead to more students listening to the advice of counselors, including exploring non-traditional legal careers.

Schools are listening to the market too.

“The schools that will do strongest in placement are the schools that will shift their curriculum to fit the market,” Chamberlain said.

“People who look at hot trends can say, ‘Oh, maybe we need to add one more labor and employment class.’ Not huge changes, but that’s what we’ve been advocating for here.”