Ironically, we don’t need to make assumptions about these jobs: Law schools already have considerable data about them. Schools, however, are not disclosing the information they possess. Neither is NALP, which aggregates data nationally. I have written about this information gap before, encouraging schools and NALP to disclose more of the data they collect.
Here is a brief summary of what we know and don’t know, as well as what we publish and don’t publish, about JD Advantage jobs. We could eliminate much of the debate and mystery surrounding these jobs–simply by disclosing the data we already have about them.
What Are JD Advantage Jobs?
Career Services Offices do not simply gather information about whether a graduate is employed and, if so, whether the job is “JD Advantage,” “Bar Admission Required,” or some other category. In most cases, the office obtains the specific job title. Law schools, in other words, know whether their JD Advantage grads are compliance officers, investment bankers, accountants, land men, research assistants, paralegals, etc. They do not report those titles to NALP, but schools know them.
It would be quite easy for a law school to post a list of the JD Advantage jobs taken by their graduates each year, together with the number of graduates in each category. Compiling this information would take very little time at most schools. According to the ABA’s spreadsheet of 2012 job outcomes, half of all law schools had 25 or fewer graduates in JD Advantage jobs. Extracting those titles from existing spreadsheets and symplicity reports is straightforward: I hereby offer to do the work for any school that wants to send me their redacted data! This offer applies even to Thomas M. Cooley, the school with the highest number of JD Advantage jobs (161) among the Class of 2012.
Given the amount of ink that has been spilled over JD Advantage jobs, I don’t know why schools haven’t already published this information. There are some excellent JD Advantage jobs, and some schools have very positive stories to tell. Where the stories aren’t as positive, applicants deserve to have that information–and faculty members should be aware of the full spectrum of jobs taken by their graduates.
I hope it goes without saying that these disclosures should cover all JD Advantage jobs secured by a school’s graduates. Highlighting just a few jobs tempts cherry-picking.
When it comes to salaries, we have less information about JD Advantage jobs than some of our publications suggest. Law schools request salary information from all employed graduates, and they report those figures to NALP. Graduates in JD Advantage positions, however, are substantially less likely to report their salaries than are graduates with jobs that require bar admission.
NALP does not publish all of the relevant salary information on the web, so I rely here on NALP’s hard copy book, Jobs & JDs, for the Class of 2011. In that class, 27,224 graduates reported jobs that required bar passage, while 5,214 reported positions for which the JD was an advantage. Among the first group, 15,999 disclosed their salaries; among the latter, just 1,771 did. NALP, in other words, knows the salaries for 58.8% of graduates who took jobs that required bar admission–but it knows those salaries for just 34.0% of the graduates who secured JD Advantage positions.
That’s a very large difference, almost 25 percentage points. NALP acknowledges that reported salaries are “biased upwards.” This is a problem for all salaries reported by NALP, but it creates special difficulties when comparing salaries across categories with different reporting rates.
NALP, for example, reports that the median salary for JD Advantage jobs among the Class of 2011 was $59,000. The median salary that year for jobs requiring bar passage was $61,500–which seems quite close. The comparison, however, does not take into account the much greater underreporting for JD Advantage jobs. Some individual law schools make the same mistake, comparing salary information for JD Advantage and Bar Admission Required jobs without noting the very different response rates in those categories.
When it comes to salaries for JD Advantage jobs, we need to do two things: (a) disclose clearly that we have less information about this category than about jobs that require bar admission; and (b) try to collect more information. If this employment category is important to our schools and graduates, we should devote more resources to understanding it.
Still Seeking Other Work
NALP’s employment questionnaire, used by almost all ABA-accredited law schools, asks a little-publicized question. The survey asks each employed graduate to check one of two boxes:
__ I continue to seek a job other than that described here.
__ I am not seeking a job other than that describe here.
NALP tabulates these responses by job category, but it does not publish the information anywhere on its website. Instead, the data are available only in NALP’s $95 annual report on jobs.
For the Class of 2011, here are the percentages of graduates in different job categories who were still seeking other work:
Bar Admission Required: 16.5% still seeking
JD Advantage: 46.8% still seeking
Other Professional: 52.1% still seeking
Non-Professional: 85.9% still seeking
These figures, of course, only approximate job satisfaction. Some ambitious graduates may always be seeking a better position, no matter how attractive their current job. Others may be dissatisfied with their work, but not actively seeking a new position. The relative percentages, however, are striking: law school graduates who hold JD Advantage, Other Professional, and Non-Professional jobs nine months after graduation are much more likely to be seeking other work than are graduates who hold jobs requiring bar admission.
As I wrote in a previous post, this pattern holds over time. Yes, some graduates are very satisfied with JD Advantage jobs. But for as long as NALP has collected the information, graduates in that category (or its predecessor, JD Preferred) have shown significantly higher rates of job seeking than their colleagues who obtained work requiring bar admission.
This information, as noted above, does not appear anywhere on NALP’s website–even though NALP has created an extensive page related to JD Advantage jobs, accompanied by a “detailed research analysis” of those jobs. Nor, to my knowledge, does any law school share this information about their graduates–although they all collect it. We could, if we wanted, publish the percentage of our employed graduates who are still seeking other work nine months after graduation. We could also break that percentage down by job category, revealing how many of our graduates in JD Advantage, Other Professional, and Non-Professional positions are seeking other jobs.
The information we collect about job seeking is at least as reliable as much of the other employment data we collect and publish. I have asked NALP, both through posts on this blog and direct emails, to add the job-seeking data to their site. They have not, unfortunately, done so. This type of omission contributes to ongoing distrust of law schools: We and our national placement organization are still disclosing data selectively. Applicants need to trust us to inform them, not merely to market to them.
We already know quite a bit about JD Advantage jobs. If every law school published the information at its disposal, applicants would understand the kind of JD Advantage jobs taken by that school’s graduates. Faculty members would also gain insights into those jobs. With disclosures from individual schools, scholars could aggregate data to build a more complete national picture of JD Advantage positions. We don’t need to make assumptions about these jobs; we have data about them. Let’s commit to disclosing and analyzing that information.