Note to Law Schools: Show Your Work on JD Advantage Jobs

April 23rd, 2015 / By

In a column in this week’s New York Law Journal, Jill Backer, assistant dean of career and professional development at Pace Law School, says it’s artificial to distinguish between jobs that require a law license and jobs where the JD confers an advantage. Backer contends that doing so through the ABA’s standardized employment reporting regime reinforces a perception that JD Advantage jobs are “less than” the Bar Passage Required jobs.

As it turns out, there’s strong evidence that many of these jobs are “less than.” But Backer does not address overwhelming evidence that JD Advantage jobs pay substantially less on average and leave graduates looking for new jobs shortly after starting them.

Additional information showing otherwise would be helpful, but law schools do not provide it. Instead schools hope we’ll trust their word that JD Advantage jobs are not only desirable, but worth pursuing through the JD-path instead of a shorter, less painfully expensive degree.

I will be the first to admit that there are many great JD Advantage jobs. For instance, my job as executive director of Law School Transparency would count as JD Advantage because my JD provides a “demonstrable advantage in . . . performing the job,” even if my job “does not itself require bar passage or an active law license or involve practicing law.” The same applies to the editors of Above the Law, the founders of Hire an Esquire, and federal agents.

The problem is that JD Advantage category is so broad that it loses meaning. Schools infuse meaning on the term through the occasional, sexy anecdote—just like the ones in my previous paragraph. Look no further than Baker’s column lede to see how these anecdotes are operationalized. Baker frames readers’ understanding of JD Advantage jobs by pointing out that the President of the United States holds a job for which the JD is an advantage.

But the definition does not even require the employer to care about the JD—the education merely needs to be helpful. A colorable argument can be made that a legal education helps with just about any job a law graduate would consider. How many jobs would you take that don’t require some measure of critical thinking or understanding of our legal system?

The category is so flimsy that paralegals and graduates in administrative positions at law firms count as JD Advantage. For example, at Baker’s own school, 14 class of 2013 graduates (or 13% of all graduates in firm jobs) were paralegals or administrators. Of the 14, five were “professional” jobs and nine were “JD Advantage.” Nobody pays $45,000 per year in law school tuition to become a paralegal. But nearly a quarter of Pace’s graduates in JD Advantage jobs were paralegals or administrators at law firms.

According to NALP, 41% of all class of 2013 graduates in JD Advantage jobs were still seeking another job nine months after graduation. Graduates in Bar Passage Required jobs were one-third as likely to indicate the same. According to data from law school graduates, JD Advantage jobs are not nearly as desirable as Baker would have readers (and prospective students) believe. Further, NALP reports that the average JD Advantage salary is 25% less than the average salary for graduates in bar-required jobs.

There are certainly people who attend law school with other aims, and they may find desirable work outside of the practice of law. (Note that there’s good reason to believe that non-legal employers are after people with legal experience, rather than a legal education.) Though I don’t speak for others, LST does not include non-legal jobs in the LST Employment Score for straightforward reasons. For people interested specifically in a non-legal career including these jobs in the LST Employment Score would not make the score more meaningful. Such a mixed score would be determined primarily by legal job placements. A mixed legal/non-legal score does not really tell prospective students about alternative job placement.

For people interested in only a legal career, the addition of non-legal jobs greatly depreciates the value of the score by including a number of jobs they are not interested in. The only group that would be well served by a mixed score is a group who would be okay with pretty much any job upon graduation. While there are third-year students and recent graduates scrambling for any job they can obtain, few people have such an attitude before entering law school.

If a school prides and sells itself on its ability to produce graduates primed for JD Advantage jobs, it ought to find another way to prove its graduates are different than the 41% of graduates in JD Advantage jobs looking for a different job just a few months after starting. I’d like to think schools in this category would want to do this. Regardless, the onus is on law schools to prove that their JD Advantage outcomes are desirable and worth pursuing a JD to obtain.

Northwestern University School of Law, for example, makes a persuasive attempt to do just that. On a page titled, “JD Advantage Employment,” Northwestern actively distinguishes itself from other schools through data and context. By request for this column, the school’s dean supplemented that information. Northwestern graduates from 2013 and 2014 are substantially less likely than the national average to be seeking another job with one in hand—an estimated 10% of JD Advantage and 3% Bar Passage Required job holders.

Law schools are in a position where they need to become more attractive to prospective students, especially the highest achieving ones. A school could legitimately position itself as a force for the new economy. Northwestern does this as well as anyone. If other schools want to show how they’re different, they need to do more than throw together a new program to sell to applicants and alumni or claim that their JD is the best path to these new economy jobs. It requires more than just bold claims and factless editorials. To schools like Pace hoping to carve out a new niche, show us your work in a meaningful way. The applicant market is listening.

, View Comments (4)

Assumptions About JD Advantage Jobs

December 5th, 2013 / By

In a recent post, Professor Paula Young writes that she “hate[s] to make too many assumptions about graduates holding JD Advantage jobs.”
I wholeheartedly agree.

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.

, View Comments (4)

Straight Talk About JD Advantage Jobs

April 28th, 2013 / By

Earlier this month, I expressed my concern about NALP‘s aggressive marketing of JD Advantage jobs to pre-law students. Last week NALP posted additional information about these jobs on its website. Although some of the data are interesting, NALP is still withholding key information it possesses about JD Advantage jobs: law graduates are much less satisfied with these jobs than with ones that require bar admission.

The omission is both regrettable and deceptive. NALP has published much of the data it collects on JD Advantage jobs, while ignoring some of the most negative–and relevant–information in its possession. This biased disclosure reflects poorly on NALP, but it also embarrasses us as legal educators and professionals. NALP is a membership organization composed of law schools and legal employers, so it speaks for us. The last thing that law schools need, after years of bad press about distorted job statistics, is publication of more misleading data.

As educators, we care about both our graduates’ welfare and the accuracy of data. NALP’s dissembling with respect to JD Advantage jobs raises real questions about whether it is capable of continuing to represent our interests. Perhaps it is time for law schools to create a different organization–or work solely with the ABA–to collect and publish unbiased data about the careers of law school graduates. We need that information, not only to advise prospective and current students, but to guide our own decisions about how to reshape legal education. Feel-good presentations that omit key facts will not help us confront the ongoing challenges to our schools and profession.

I summarize here some of the information we currently have about JD Advantage jobs, including the data omitted by NALP. I also suggest ways that we could begin collecting more objective data about these jobs. If JD Advantage jobs are going to play an important role in the future of legal education, we have to get serious about examining these positions.

Looking Back

There have always been law graduates who pursued careers outside of law practice. The information we have, however, suggests that most of those graduates embraced alternative careers after practicing law for at least a few years. An earlier statement by NALP, for example, acknowledges: “It is certainly true that people with JD degrees work in a wide variety of alternative careers. However, while that may be true down the road, lawyers most often choose a non-traditional path after practicing law for at least a few years.” (This statement still appears on the NALP website, but it is not connected to the pages promoting JD Advantage jobs as entry-level positions.)

This distinction is important. Graduates who take JD Advantage jobs after practicing law differ from those who seek these jobs immediately after law school. The historical record suggests that some employers value the JD plus law practice experience for certain jobs; the record tells us very little about the value of the JD alone for those career paths. When we advise current and prospective students about the value of JD Advantage jobs, we have to be careful to distinguish graduates who used their degrees plus practice from those who attempted to secure JD Advantage jobs immediately after law school. A graduate who takes a job in “compliance” right after graduation has a very different job from one who moves in-house to do compliance work after three years in a regulatory law practice. Their long-term career trajectories may also differ; we have little available information on that score.

Earlier graduates in non-traditional positions offer an important resource for gathering information about JD Advantage jobs and, if those jobs seem promising, developing career paths for current graduates. We have to seek that information, however, in a serious way. It’s not enough simply to talk with these graduates at reunions. We need to map law-related opportunities more systematically, seek feedback on which law school experiences are particularly valuable for those jobs, and analyze objectively how much a JD contributes to graduates obtaining those positions and advancing in them.

JD Advantage Today

As entry-level jobs in law practice have contracted and shifted to less attractive positions, law graduates have looked to alternative fields. NALP’s Detailed Analysis of JD Advantage Jobs shows how important those jobs have become. Among 2011 graduates who reported their job status, 12.5% took JD Advantage jobs. That represents one out of every eight graduates. As a percentage of all graduates, including those who did not report their job status, graduates in JD Advantage positions accounted for 11.7% of the class.

According to recently released ABA figures, the percentage went up for the class of 2012. Among those who reported their employment status, 13.2% held JD Advantage jobs. As a percentage of the full graduating class, these jobs accounted for 12.9% of graduates.

Those percentages are substantially higher than the rates reported during the century’s first decade. For the class of 2001, 5.9% of graduates reporting their employment status indicated that they held “JD Preferred” jobs; that category was the precursor for the contemporary “JD Advantage” one. For the class of 2004, the figure was 7.5%, and in 2007, it was also 7.5%. The percentage edged up to 7.8% for the class of 2008, then began jumping noticeably each year: to 8.8% for the class of 2009, 10.2% for the class of 2010, 12.5% for the class of 2011, and 13.2% for the class of 2012.

This pattern in itself suggests that law graduates are turning to JD Advantage jobs as a “Plan B” when they cannot find jobs in law practice. Interest in these jobs has not been “growing steadily” since 2001, as NALP suggests in its recent analysis. Instead, interest jumped significantly after the recession hit the legal market in 2009. We need to look seriously at graduates’ satisfaction with JD Advantage jobs. Do recent graduates hope to build a career in this work? Or are they using JD Advantage jobs as place-holders while looking for work in law practice? If the latter, how well can graduates make that transition?

Job Satisfaction

NALP already has data on some of these questions. As part of its annual survey of law graduates, NALP asks employed graduates whether they are “seeking a job other than the one” reported to their Career Services Office. The answers to this question shed important light on a graduate’s job satisfaction. Graduates answer this survey within nine months of law school graduation. If they are seeking another job that quickly after graduation, the reported job either lacks permanence or holds little appeal.

Responses to this question consistently suggest that law graduates prefer jobs that require bar admission over JD Advantage ones. In 2001, just 6.7% of graduates working in lawyering jobs (those that required a law license) were looking for other work; a full third (33.3%) of those with JD Preferred jobs were actively seeking another job. In 2004, the percentages were 8.5% (for those in jobs requiring bar admission) and 37.0% (for JD Preferred jobs). Three years later, in 2007, the percentages were virtually identical to the 2004 ones: 8.7% of graduates with lawyering jobs were seeking other work, while 37.7% of those with JD Preferred positions were on the job market.

NALP’s latest figures, from 2011, show the same pattern. With a tighter market and more ad hoc jobs, the percentages have risen in both categories. 16.5% of graduates with lawyering jobs were seeking other work, and 46.8% of those with JD Advantage jobs were doing so. For graduates with other types of professional employment, the percentage was even higher: more than half (52.1%) of those graduates were sufficiently dissatisfied with their jobs to be seeking a different one.

These figures further suggest that JD Advantage positions are fallback jobs, rather than affirmative career decisions, for many graduates. Some graduates may eagerly pursue jobs in this category, but a large number do not. Almost half are seeking other work as soon as they begin these positions. Even among JD Advantage workers who have temporarily withdrawn from the job market, at least some may hope to move into law practice eventually.

This is essential information to know about the job market, but you won’t find the data on NALP’s web page offering a “Detailed Analysis of JD Advantage Jobs.” A prospective law student or interested law professor would have to purchase NALP’s $90 book on Jobs and JDs to find that information. The student or professor, of course, would also have to know that the additional data exist.

We need to grapple with negative information about JD Advantage jobs, not selectively ignore those data. Which graduates are satisfied with JD Advantage jobs and why? What work are the other graduates doing? Will that work help them secure jobs that better fulfill their career ambitions?

Toward Better Data

As noted above, I’m not sure that NALP is the best organization to collect more data on JD Advantage jobs or other evolving facets of the job market. The organization’s recent treatment of JD Advantage jobs suggests that it is spinning data rather than providing objective information. The ABA might serve as a better resource for ongoing career information. That professional group is providing data more quickly than NALP, and it is publishing the data in both summary and detailed form. Law School Transparency is also offering rapidly updated, objective career information through its Score Reports.

Whatever organizations we work with in the future, here are some questions that we need to address about JD Advantage jobs:

1. What are these jobs? Both NALP and the ABA allow graduates and their schools to decide whether a job qualifies for this category. It is very easy for a JD graduate or a JD-granting institution to conclude that their degree confers a “demonstrable advantage in obtaining or performing” a particular job. These decisions, however, may overstate the value of the JD. Is a job as a substitute middle school teacher a “JD Advantage” one? What about a job as a police officer? Law graduates in these jobs probably would draw upon their legal training, but are these the type of jobs we envision as “JD Advantage” ones?

There’s no reason to debate these questions in the abstract. We should simply require schools to list the jobs they have counted as “JD Advantage” ones. The ABA could publish that information, both for individual schools and in the aggregate. Some students may find positions as middle school teachers or police officers attractive; others may decide that the JD is not the best route to those positions. By publishing the data, we can inform both students and ourselves about possible career paths for law graduates.

2. How many students take different types of JD Advantage jobs? Law schools count paralegal positions as “JD Advantage” ones, but they rarely tout those jobs. Instead, websites tend to refer to policy analysts and investment bankers. Following the previous suggestion would allow us to advise students (and ourselves) about the prevalence of graduates in these very different JD Advantage positions.

3. How do other degrees and experiences contribute to graduates’ success in pursuing JD Advantage positions? A JD offers an advantage for some accounting positions, but it is very unlikely that a law graduate could obtain an accounting job without also holding a degree in accounting. Similarly, some JDs in business hold an MBA along with the JD. To give our students good counsel, as well as to enhance our own understanding of legal education, we need to collect more granular data about the relationship of JD Advantage jobs to other degrees. This research might suggest that other degrees shoulder much of the weight in securing some “JD Advantage” positions. Alternatively, it might identify particular joint degrees as especially useful for law students. The research might also suggest that we could benefit our students by incorporating elements of other degree programs in the JD curriculum.

4. How do law graduates fare in fields dominated by graduates with college or master’s degrees? According to the Department of Labor, only 20% of arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators hold a professional or doctoral degree; both BA and MA degrees are more common in this field. The Department does not even mention the JD as an educational prerequisite for a Human Resources Manager; 73% of those workers have just an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, while 27% possess a master’s degree. What do we mean, then, when we say that the JD provides an advantage for these positions? Do law graduates enter these fields at higher levels of responsibility than graduates with other preparation? Do they advance further? Based on anecdotal information, my sense is that the answer to both of these questions is “no.” The JD plus practice experience gives graduates an advantage in these fields, but the JD alone may not. But that’s just an impression; we need hard data on this issue.

Answering questions like these will help us advise prospective and current law students. Equally important, this information will inform our own decisions about the future of legal education. Is a three-year necessary for these JD Advantage jobs? Would a one- or two-year degree serve equally well? What elements of legal education contribute to these jobs? Is it critical thinking skills? Knowledge of legal doctrine? Both? How large are the contributions? We have to be willing to ask these questions as researchers and to interpret the answers objectively. Armed with that information, we can make responsible and productive decisions about how to improve the value of legal education.

, No Comments Yet

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.

, View Comments (3)

US News and Employment Outcomes

March 12th, 2013 / By

Over the last two years, pressure has mounted for more transparent information about the jobs that law school graduates obtain. US News traditionally used very coarse measures of employment, most recently focusing on the percentage of graduates who reported any type of job nine months after graduation. Those nine-month employment rates included part-time jobs, temporary positions, and employment with little relationship to a law degree. A part-time sales clerk at Macy’s was just as “employed” as a law firm associate on the partnership track.

This measure allowed law schools to claim very high employment rates, both in the US News tables and in their own promotional materials. The dazzling nine-month percentages–97%, 98%, 99%!–implied that law school was still a sure road to secure, professional, and well paid employment. Applicants had to seek other information, often buried in complex websites, to understand how many of those “employed” graduates were working in part-time, short-term jobs–sometimes funded by the law schools themselves.

We’ve made progress over the last year. Law School Transparency led the way by publishing more detailed job information about every ABA-accredited law school. The ABA followed suit by requesting more nuanced information from law schools and publishing that data. The ABA also revised its accreditation standards to insist that law schools disclose more complete information to students. But still, those tables in US News, with all of those high employment rates, were very, very appealing.

Today US News joined the push for more accurate employment information. The 2014 rankings include a new measure of employment outcomes. US News now weights jobs according to whether they are JD-related, part-time or full-time, and short-term or long-term. The online magazine is not disclosing the full formula, but notes that “[f]ull weight was given for graduates who had a full-time job lasting at least a year where bar passage was required or a J.D. degree was an advantage.” At the other end of the spectrum, “[t]he lowest weight applied to jobs categorized as both part-time and short-term.”

Perhaps most important, US News has published for each law school the percentage of its 2011 graduates who obtained jobs falling into the first category–jobs that were full-time, long-term, and related to the JD. Those percentages are available, free of charge, for all law school applicants to ponder.

The results aren’t pretty. At the top eight schools, more than 90% of graduates are still finding full-time, long-term jobs that use their law degrees. Some of those jobs may not justify the cost of attendance, and we might still wonder about some of the graduates who didn’t obtain full-time, long-term, law-related work within nine months of graduation. But law-related employment rates of 90% or more might justify three years of expensive, intensive professional education.

Outside the elite eight, however, job outcomes plummet sharply. Berkeley and Michigan, two premiere public schools, tie for ninth place in the new ranking. Yet only 82.6% and 85.8% of their graduates, respectively, found full-time, long-term employment for which the JD conferred an advantage. Conversely, by nine months after graduation, 14-17% of their graduates were still marking time in part-time, short-term, or non-legal positions. Those aren’t outcomes for which students should pay top tuition dollars.

Further down the list, the outcomes are even more bleak. Minnesota and Washington University in St. Louis round out the top twenty law schools with a tie for nineteenth place. Yet nine months after graduation, only two thirds (66.3% and 66.6%) of the graduates from these schools were working in long-term, full-time jobs related to the JD. A full third of each class failed to achieve employment that used their expensive and hard-won degrees.

The percentages vary after that, climbing as high as 88.0% (for George Washington) and falling as low as 23.6% (Whittier). Over the next few days, bloggers will analyze the factors that contributed to higher employment rates (school-funded positions, geography, a large percentage of JD Advantage jobs) and those that produced lower outcomes. No amount of analysis, however, can conceal the overall pattern. No school outside the top eight placed more than 90% of its graduates in full-time, long-term, law-related work. Only 13 schools, including that top eight, exceeded the 85% mark. And only 34 schools, out of the 195 supplying employment information, managed to place as many as three-quarters of their graduates in a full-time, long-term, law-related job within nine months of graduation.

The new employment measure devised by US News is far from perfect. Its greatest flaw lies in equating all “JD Advantage” jobs with positions requiring bar admission. Statistics gathered by NALP show that law graduates are far less satisfied with JD Advantage jobs than with ones requiring a law license. Among 2011 graduates, 46.8% of those in JD Advantage jobs were still seeking other employment; just 16.5% of those in bar-admission-required jobs were doing so. Those statistics appear only in NALP’s Jobs and JDs book, and they do not distinguish full-time, long-term jobs from part-time, short-term ones, but I will ask NALP if they can provide more information on those distinctions.

Even more worrisome, I don’t believe that any organization audits the claims that graduates and law schools make about which jobs carry the “JD Advantage” tag. NALP counts the jobs reported in that category but, apparently, does not ask schools to identify the positions that count as “JD Advantage.” Nor, to my knowledge, does the ABA or US News. Does a job as a court assignment clerk count as a “JD Advantage” position? What about a job as a middle school social studies teacher? Or one as a bail agent, debt collector, or police officer? I can imagine a JD assisting workers in any of these fields–but the jobs are ones that the majority of job holders perform quite well without the training or expense of a JD.

These are issues that we need to address very soon, both for purposes of the US News ranking scheme and with respect to the information that law schools provide their applicants. But for now, the generous definition of “employed,” which includes any job carrying the “JD Advantage” label, makes the outcomes reported by US News especially troubling. Even allowing for a very liberal definition of law-related jobs, even including all of those “alternative” careers that schools have touted, law schools are leaving a remarkably large percentage of their graduates without jobs that use their degrees. Short-term and part-time jobs are not good outcomes for students who have spent over $100,000–often borrowed at high interest rates–for a legal education. Neither are jobs unrelated to the JD, ones for which schools don’t even dare claim a “JD advantage.”

Prospective students and law schools need to take note of these outcomes and take them seriously to heart. If we can’t provide even solid “JD Advantage” jobs to a substantial number of our graduates, then the value of our degree is in serious question.

, View Comment (1)


March 1st, 2013 / By

What does the sequester mean for law school graduates? Those who work for the federal government may have already received notice of upcoming furloughs. The Department of Justice, for example, has notified Assistant U.S. Attorneys that they will be furloughed for up to fourteen days. That doesn’t sound like much, but there are only 260 weekdays in a year. Fourteen days of furlough add up to a 5.4% pay cut.

Add to that the special nature of professional work. Furloughed prosecutors cannot offer to work free on their furlough days, and they must stay away from the workplace on those days. But their cases won’t go away. US Attorney’s offices, like all other offices affected by the sequester, will face an unpalatable choice: Do the attorneys maintain their current workload, working harder on the days they’re at work–for less pay? Or do they cut back on prosecutions?

The same cuts will affect our graduates who work as FBI agents, policy analysts, IRS employees, and any other type of federal government worker. As the cuts affect state budgets, particularly in states that rely upon defense spending, JDs who work for state and local governments will suffer as well.

That’s just the first chapter. With current employees furloughed and the budget future so uncertain, government agencies are likely to cut back hiring–even more than they have done already. We also have to worry about indirect effects on lawyering jobs, as furloughs and other cutbacks ripple through the economy. Fewer FBI agents, US attorneys, and government regulators means fewer investigations and prosecutions. That’s less work for the lawyers who defend the accused (from small-time drug dealers to big-time corporate fraudsters) or who advise companies on complying with government regulation.

We can hope that Congress will come to its senses quickly, once the effects of sequestration sink in. But even then, there will be sobering news for our graduates. The sequester reflects a period of profound political and cultural malaise over government spending. Opposition to that spending occurs on top of the economic forces that already threaten information-heavy professional jobs like lawyering.

Don’t get me wrong: The harshest effects of anti-government attitudes fall upon the poor. We should care passionately about how our economy and government are leaving so many people behind. But, since this blog focuses on legal education, we also need to ask what all of this means for our graduates–and for what we do as law schools. At one time, government jobs were a first choice for some law graduates and a satisfying fallback for others. Those jobs are more in doubt now than they have been for more than fifty years. How does that affect our work as law schools?

, View Comment (1)

About Law School Cafe

Cafe Manager & Co-Moderator
Deborah J. Merritt

Cafe Designer & Co-Moderator
Kyle McEntee

ABA Journal Blawg 100 HonoreeLaw School Cafe is a resource for anyone interested in changes in legal education and the legal profession.

Around the Cafe


Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.


Recent Comments

Recent Posts

Monthly Archives


Have something you think our audience would like to hear about? Interested in writing one or more guest posts? Send an email to the cafe manager at We are interested in publishing posts from practitioners, students, faculty, and industry professionals.

Past and Present Guests