MORGANTOWN – Students at the West Virginia University School of Law were largely successful in finding employment after graduation in 2015, and they've topped the national average, according to figures from the American Bar Association.

Eighty percent of the Class of 2015 obtained full-time, long-term employment. College of Law Dean Greg Bowman told The West Virginia Record that this is in part due to the relationships the college develops with employers, as well as the school's careful admission of, and one-on-one work with, students.

Gregory Bowman | Courtesy of the WVU College of Law

"We have very strong relationships with employers. If you do not have a trusting relationship with the employers you're sending your students to, you're not going to get them hired," Bowman said. "We know these students individually. We've recruited them one at a time. We have done a good job of admitting students who are strong students, and of training them with practice-ready skills."

According to the American Bar Association's employment statistics for the Class of 2015, the national employment rate for positions that require an individual to pass the bar or have a juris doctor degree is 70 percent. 

At WVU College of Law, that figure is 10 percentage points higher. That same group also beat the national hiring rate for private practice by nearly 10 points, and obtained judicial clerkships at more than twice the national average.

While the school has been successful in getting large numbers of students hired at law firms, there are challenges, Bowman said.

"The modern legal job market is really fractured. There are all kinds of jobs in small and medium firms," Bowman said. "Finding students jobs is a lot harder than it used to be. It's not just about finding a job, it's about launching a career."

The school's hiring rate in certain areas of the legal system were lower than the national average. For example, the hiring rate in public interest law was 2.7 percent, compared to the national average of 4.7 percent.

The WVU School of Law graduated about 140 students in 2015, and funding for some legal positions makes a difference in rates, Bowman said.

"Remember, our student body is quite small. One or two students making different choices each year can make a big difference," Bowman said. "Also, the funding may not be there. If funding is not available at legal aid, we're not going to be able to place students (in public interest law)."

While the school is proud of the hiring rates for the Class of 2015, there are continuing efforts to improve.  

"We will continue to reach out to the small and medium-sized firms," Bowman said. "Employment at small firms is very much who you know. We are working hard to develop those relationships."

The college is also working to maintain or create relationships with law firms in the Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia areas. 

"Students are very interested in going to these areas," Bowman said. "There may be more opportunities for employment in-state as well."

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