NALP and the JD Advantage

April 7th, 2013 / By

With contraction of the legal job market, law schools are touting “JD Advantage” jobs for graduates. According to NALP, the National Association for Law Placement, these are “jobs that do not require bar passage, an active law license, or involve practicing law in the traditional sense.” Instead, JD Advantage jobs are positions in which “a JD provides an advantage in obtaining or performing the job.”

NALP is now helping law schools promote these JD Advantage positions to prospective students. The organization has created a new webpage, What Is the JD Advantage?, as part of its Prelaw Portal. The page enthusiastically advises prospective law students: “It turns out that the JD degree prepares you for a variety of exciting jobs and careers. While many law school graduates go on to practice law, many others go on to play leadership roles in a variety of settings. Many law school graduates obtain positions for which Bar Passage, or even a JD, is not required, but their legal training is deemed to be an advantage or even necessary in the workplace. As the saying goes ‘you can do almost anything with a law degree!'”

The page then offers videos of five recent law graduates who are happily pursuing JD Advantage positions. The featured jobs are desirable ones: two of the graduates are Presidential Management Fellows; one is a communications director for a U.S. Congressman; one is a senior human resources manager; and the fifth is a vice president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The graduates speak glowingly of their work and endorse the versatility of a law degree. Each video opens with the slogan: “you can do anything with a law degree.”

This is feel-good stuff designed to promote law school attendance. Some educators might dismiss the webpage as harmless puffery. We all know that it’s not possible to do “anything” with a law degree. Law school graduates can’t practice medicine, pilot planes, speak Urdu, or do hundreds of other things without training separately in those fields. And there are many things one can do with a law degree (sell coffee, scrub floors, go to prison), that most graduates prefer not to do.

Law schools, however, shouldn’t dismiss this webpage as puffery; they should demand that NALP take the page down. The page omits material, negative information about JD Advantage positions–information that NALP itself collects and has readily available. Rather than share the negative data through its Prelaw Portal, or elsewhere on its public website, NALP shelters most of that information in its annual Jobs and JDs book. Few prospective students know about that publication–or would spend the $90 that NALP charges for a copy.

At the same time that NALP omits material information from its “JD Advantage” webpage, the organization reassures prospective students that NALP is “the premier resource for information on legal employment and recruiting,” and that it is able to “provide comprehensive information” on topics related to entry-level jobs secured by law graduates. NALP, in other words, is trading on its reputation as an impartial data collection agency while providing biased information to prospective law students. Even worse, NALP must know that the information on its site is incomplete and overly rosy. Law schools shouldn’t tolerate this type of behavior from an organization that represents us.

What NALP Knows

NALP has four types of data that undermine the unalloyed enthusiasm of its “JD Advantage” webpage. First, and most important, NALP knows that many law graduates in these positions are actively seeking other work. Graduates with jobs that require bar passage, in contrast, are much less likely to be shopping for other work.

As part of its annual employment survey, NALP asks every law graduate to “indicate whether you are seeking a job other than the one described here.” To my knowledge, aggregate responses to this question appear nowhere on NALP’s website; they appear only in NALP’s Jobs and JDs report. Those reports consistently show that graduates with JD Advantage jobs (or “JD Preferred” ones, as NALP used to label this category) are much more likely to be seeking other work than are graduates in “Bar Passage Required” positions.

In 2001, for example, just 6.7% of law grads with Bar Passage Required jobs were seeking other work nine months after graduation; a full third (33.3%) of graduates in JD Preferred positions were doing so. The figures were similar in 2004: 8.5% of graduates in Bar Passage Required jobs were seeking other work, while 37.0% of those in JD Preferred positions were doing so. The same was true in 2007: only 8.7% of graduates in Bar Passage Required jobs were still on the job market, while 37.7% of those with JD Preferred positions were actively seeking work.

For the most recent year, 2011, graduates in both categories were less satisfied with their nine-month positiions. Even among graduates with jobs requiring bar passage, 16.5% were actively looking for other jobs. But a whopping 46.8% of graduates in JD Advantage jobs were looking for other work. Almost half of all graduates with “JD Advantage” jobs were dissatisfied enough to still be on the job market–just nine months after law school graduation. That fact belies the “you can do anything” cheerfulness of NALP’s JD Advantage pitch to prelaw students.

Second, NALP knows that contemporary JD Advantage jobs are much more likely than lawyering ones to be part-time. For the Class of 2011, 21.0% of JD Advantage jobs were part-time; just 8.0% of Bar Passage Required jobs fell in that category. A diligent searcher could find this information on NALP’s general website, but not on its JD Advantage webpage.

Third, NALP knows that a similarly high percentage of JD Advantage jobs are short-term temporary ones. A recent ABA Report shows that 25.2% of all JD Advantage jobs secured by the Class of 2011 were short-term positions. Just 9.7% of jobs requiring bar passage, in contrast, were temporary ones. NALP collects similar information about the short-term nature of JD Advantage jobs, but does not report it, either on the JD Advantage webpage or elsewhere on its site.

NALP, finally, knows that JD Advantage jobs pay less than ones requiring bar passage–and that holders of JD Advantage jobs are less likely to report their salaries. The difference in reported salaries is relatively small: the median for JD Advantage positions was $59,000 in 2011 while that for Bar Passage Required ones was $61,500. More significant, only 33.8% of JD Advantage workers reported their salaries–compared to 57.3% of graduates holding jobs that required bar passage. As NALP itself recognizes, reported salaries skew high. The dramatic under-reporting of JD Advantage salaries suggests significantly lower pay in that sector.

These four facts raise concerns about the desirability of JD Advantage jobs. Prospective students should know these facts, especially the fact about the number of JD Advantage job-holders who are still seeking other work. NALP should know better than to publish cherry-picked videos and cheery claims without disclosing the information it possesses about these “do anything” jobs.

What NALP Doesn’t Know

It’s very troubling that NALP is promoting JD Advantage positions without disclosing the key information it possesses about those jobs. Equally disturbing, NALP is pushing these positions despite its lack of essential information about this job sector. When I first saw NALP’s JD Advantage webpage, I assumed that the organization had gathered data about the full range of jobs labeled “JD Advantage.” I thought, for example, that NALP would know how many of those jobs are Presidential Management Fellowships, how many are compliance positions, how many are paralegal spots, and how many are primary school teaching positions. That type of information would give NALP some basis for promoting JD Advantage jobs as desirable ones–or at least for giving prospective students information about their different options.

After corresponding with NALP’s staff, however, I discovered that NALP does not know what kind of jobs appear in the JD Advantage category–much less the percentage of each type of job. NALP relies exclusively on graduates and law schools to categorize their jobs as “Bar Passage Required,” “JD Advantage,” “Other Professional,” or “Non-Professional.” When NALP tells prospective students that they “can do almost anything with a law degree,” NALP doesn’t know what graduates with JD Advantage, Professional, or Non-Professional positions really are doing with their degrees.

This strikes me as even more irresponsible than NALP’s omission of the facts it knows about JD Advantage positions. If NALP–or individual law schools–want to promote JD Advantage jobs, then we should collect more information about those jobs. How many of our graduates are Presidential Management Fellows and how many are paralegals? Are the graduates in HR positions doing advanced work, or are they taking jobs that are available to college graduates? If NALP or its member schools believe that JD Advantage jobs are important to the future of legal education, then we should collect and publish honest information about those positions. Without that information, statements that “you can do anything with a law degree” aren’t just glib–they’re disingenuous.

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