What about "J.D. advantage" jobs?

Employment metrics generally seek to identify what schools provide some level of "quality" employment outcomes--whether one views them as "ideal," "elite," "good," "positive," or whatever qualifier as to the level of quality. One category of employment is "J.D. advantage." Is it a quality outcome?

The ABA questionnaire defines "J.D. advantage" positions as follows:

A position in this category is one for which the employer sought an individual with a JD, and perhaps even required a JD, or for which the JD provided a demonstrable advantage in obtaining or performing the job, but itself does not require bar passage or an active law license or involve practicing law. Examples of positions for which a JD is an advantage include a corporate contracts administrator, alternative dispute resolution specialist, government regulatory analyst, FBI agent, and accountant. Also included might be jobs in personnel or human resources, jobs with investment banks, jobs with consulting firms, jobs doing compliance work in business and industry, jobs in law firm professional development, and jobs in law school career services offices, admissions offices, or other law school administrative offices. Doctors or nurses who plan to work in a litigation, insurance, or risk management setting, or as expert witnesses, would fall into this category, as would journalists and teachers (in a higher education setting) of law and law related topics. It is an indicator that a position does not fall into this category if a JD is uncommon among persons holding such a position.

Some of these positions sound very good. Some of them sound less than ideal. And part of this definition depends on how career development offices self-identify some jobs that do not neatly fit into this category and may fall into the "professional"--or worse, "non-professional"--employment outcome.

It might be that students entering law school have a very different conception of what it means to "be a lawyer" or "go to law school" than when they graduate from law school. The typical pre-law student may have a very defined expectation of employment--often (usually predominantly) bar passage required jobs. But that's hardly a reason to suggest that J.D. advantage jobs are poor outcomes; pre-law students often enter with romantic notions of international law, sports law, and the like. Part of legal education is professional development, including the articulation of meaningful career trajectories.

So, are J.D. advantage jobs such meaningful career trajectories? A part of "quality" employment outcomes?

Most reasoning, so far, has been essentially seat-of-the-pants judgments that they're good or bad. I thought I'd dig into a few of the data points regarding them. Here are a few thoughts. Many are derived from NALP data, which can be useful to interpret what these jobs actually are.

The case for including "J.D. advantage" jobs as quality employment outcomes

Commensurate salary. According to NALP, J.D. advantage positions held salaries comparable to those in bar passage-required, with a major exception: private practice.

NALP divides salary medians by employer types: academic, business, private practice, government, and public interest. Academic is a small category, with just 67 reported bar passage-required and 138 J.D. advantage reported in 2012. Below are the statistics for full-time, long-term jobs. (It excludes judicial clerks and solo practitioners.)

  Bar passage required No. salaries J.D. advantage No. salaries
All employer types $62,300 17,713 $57,317 2,194
Business $65,000 807 $65,000 1,153
Private Practice $95,000 10,934 $40,000 215
Government $51,869 1,994 $52,000 526
Public Interest $44,000 1,064 $48,000 161

Of course, the private practice distinction makes sense. If someone is working as a librarian, clerk, or other non-associate position in a law firm, he is presumably making dramatically less than an associate. But such positions are relatively few. Additionally, NALP reports that the median for law firm jobs as overstated by an estimated $20,000 to $30,000 due to reporting bias in high-paying jobs at large law firms.  For all other categories, the salaries are comparable. Indeed, J.D. advantage individuals in business were the plurality of all J.D. advantage jobs and had an identical reported median salary.

The Harvard example. The Harvard Law Class of 2013 had 44 graduates who placed in full-time, long-term, J.D. advantage positions. It seems curious, then, to exclude them from the total. Companies like McKinsey and Bain directly recruit at Harvard Law for these positions. They are highly coveted, and well compensated.

It is not that all J.D. advantage positions are comparable to Harvard's. It is simply to note that such positions can be, and indeed are, quality--even high-quality--employment outcomes. The same is true with bar passage required positions: yes, not all bar passage required positions are comparable with the outcomes at Harvard, but it's a marker that such positions are not inherently inferior. The same is true with J.D. advantage positions--yes, McKinsey and Bain aren't recruiting at all 200 law schools, but we don't have that kind of standard for bar passage required as a required metric of employment, either.

A changing economy. As Bill Henderson has repeatedly written, law schools must adapt to the 21st century. "Multidisciplinary" approaches to the law, outside of the traditional "artisan guild," are rapidly growing industries.

These new industries are often not bar passage required. Do they require legal training? In some instances, no. But would legal training provide an advantage? For some, undoubtedly, yes. Measuring this impact is imprecise at the moment. But people like Professor Henderson are routinely integrating these types of employers into classroom exercises, presumably not simply to say, "Look at the job path you might have taken had you never come to law school." Instead, it is to identify the new way forward for graduates of legal education.

The case against including "J.D. advantage" jobs as quality employment outcomes

Not really commensurate salary. The median salary for J.D. advantage outcomes is about $5000 lower than the bar passage required salaries. That's in part due to over-representative reporting among those in large law firm jobs. But it does illustrate that the truly high quality positions are in private practice in bar passage required jobs. Indeed, in private practice, NALP found that the 75th percentile of reported J.D. advantage jobs ($52,000) was still below the 25th percentile of bar passage required jobs ($56,160). From this metric, J.D. advantage jobs do not have a substantially similar salary outcome--only similar among non-private practice positions.

Disproportionately lower-ranked schools. Yes, Harvard has a good number of J.D. advantage graduates. But how do all schools match up? I broke down the data from the ABA employment questionnaire for 2013. There are five cohorts divided by peer score according to the U.S. News & World Report survey. The percentage of graduates in each cohort with full-time, long-term, J.D. advantage jobs is listed below.

Peer score n J.D. advantage
4.0 15 4.7%
3.0-3.9 30 8.6%
2.5-2.9 30 12.0%
2.0-2.4 52 11.1%
1.0-1.9 68 11.3%

Lower-ranked schools tended to have a higher number of individuals employed in J.D. advantage jobs. That may weigh against including it in a quality employment metric--or, at least, recognizing that while there are some quality J.D. advantage jobs (note nearly 5% of "elite" schools with graduates taking those positions), it is likely not the case that such quality jobs are disproportionately taken by students at lower-ranked law schools. This seems particularly likely given that the bar passage required jobs are held disproportionately by graduates of higher-ranked schools.

Low job satisfaction. NALP also discloses the "job search status" of employed graduates. It includes a question for the percentage of those already employed "seeking other employment." In a sense, it captures a sense of the quality of outcomes.

  • Bar passage required: 25,554 employed graduates, 15.3% seeking other employment
  • J.D. advantage: 4,972 employed graduates, 43.3% seeking other employment
  • Other professional: 1,745 employed graduates, 54.0% seeking other employment
  • Non-professional: 672 employed graduates, 86.8% seeking other employment

Nearly half of all graduates in J.D. advantage jobs were seeking a different job. That suggests a relatively low level of satisfaction with employment. The breakdown by employer type (regardless of whether the position is bar passage required, J.D. advantage, or other) reveals a similar divide. The highest dissatisfaction comes from Academic jobs, with 59.4% seeking other jobs--which makes sense, given that these positions are usually the most fleeting positions, often temporary positions at the institution. Then comes Business at 43.0%--consistent with the fact that the bulk of J.D. advantage employed individuals are in Business. Following that is Public Interest at 37.8%, Government at 23.9%, and Private Practice at 16.5%.


In the end, full-time, long-term, J.D. advantage jobs are a relatively small percentage of employment outcomes. USNWR gives such positions full weight in its rankings methodology, concluding in its methodology, "Many experts in legal education consider these the real law jobs." Law School Transparency excludes these positions in its "score," concluding in its methodology, "By not including these jobs we are not saying they are bad jobs, only that they are not jobs in the practice of law."

These seem ipse dixit. Yes, experts may consider them "real law jobs," but that assumes a definition of "real." And yes, they are not "jobs in the practice of law," but that's why they are "J.D. advantage" rather than "bar passage required"--indeed, it seems even more unusual to exclude them if one qualifies that the methodology is expressly not judging them to be "bad jobs."

So here are my own attempts to puzzle through the J.D. advantage situation--and, hopefully, with a small amount of data that may be useful in making an evaluation about their quality.