Just What Is the JD Advantage?

NALP Bulletin, May 2013

Starting with the law school Class of 2011, a new term of art entered our lexicon — “JD Advantage.” It is a phrase that NALP and the ABA use to describe a category of jobs for which bar passage is not required but for which a JD degree provides a distinct advantage. (Prior to 2011, NALP called these jobs “JD Preferred” jobs; although the definitions of the “JD Preferred” and “JD Advantage” jobs are not identical, the kinds of jobs represented by these two categories are largely the same.) The ABA’s Questionnaire Committee (now the Data Policy and Collection Committee) coined the term “JD Advantage,” and, in collaboration with NALP, arrived at the definition.

The jobs that new law school graduates take can be categorized in many different ways. Traditionally we look at both the type of job and the type of employer, as these two categories taken together provide the most information about the entry-level labor market. Historically, jobs for which bar passage is required make up the largest group of jobs, followed by law-related jobs (these are the JD Advantage jobs) that do not require bar passage.

With the persistently weak entry-level job market for law school graduates that has followed the 2008 recession, interest in jobs that can be categorized as JD Advantage jobs has grown. In fact, the extent to which law school graduates take jobs for which a JD provides an advantage in obtaining the job has been growing steadily since NALP began tracking this kind of job in 2001. For the Class of 2011, 12.5% of graduates for whom employment status was known had obtained such a job, more than double the rate of 6% in 2001. Also, this year for the first time the US News & World Report law school rankings changed their methodology so that jobs that require bar passage and jobs that provide a JD advantage were given more weight than other categories of jobs.

This article focuses on describing these jobs in more detail than in the Jobs & JDs report for the Class of 2011. A link to a longer, more detailed report about JD Advantage jobs, along with a series of videos of law school graduates who hold JD Advantage jobs, can be found here.

Nearly one in seven jobs taken by the Class of 2011 was reported as a JD Advantage job. In numbers this translates to more than 5,200 jobs. These jobs were most common by far in the business realm, which accounted for 46% of the JD Advantage jobs obtained by the Class of 2011. (See pie charts below.)

  • Within specific business sectors, banking and legal temp agencies were the biggest source of JD Advantage jobs, and the specific job types most frequently reported were management and consulting. However, the single largest category of JD Advantage jobs in business were “other,” suggesting a wide range of jobs outside of those tracked specifically and that do not easily lend themselves to categorization. No other sector accounted for more than 19% of JD Advantage jobs. In the smallest sector — academia — law school research assistants/fellows accounted for over half of the reported JD Advantage jobs.

  • Over two-thirds of JD Advantage jobs were reported as full-time and lasting at least a year. This figure varied by sector however, from just 39% in academia to 79% in business. (See the table on Characteristics of JD Advantage Jobs Taken by the Class of 2011.) This means that most graduates who were hired by their own law schools into jobs that were categorized as JD Advantage jobs were working in jobs that were either part-time or short-term, or both.

  • About one in ten JD Advantage jobs were reported as funded by either the graduate’s law school (9% of JD Advantage jobs) or by an outside grant (1% of these jobs). This too varied greatly by sector: over 46% of the academic jobs were law school-funded, one-third of the public interest jobs were law school-funded, and virtually none of the jobs in private practice and business settings were law school-funded.

  • The median salary for JD Advantage jobs — those that were reported as full-time and lasting at least a year — was $59,000. The median for JD Advantage jobs in business was highest, at $65,000, and lowest in law firms at $40,000.

What Kinds of Jobs Does the JD Advantage Category Include?

Jobs in this category are those 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 are jobs that do not require bar passage, an active law license, or involve practicing law. Examples of positions for which a JD is an advantage include a job as 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 for 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 could fall into this category, as could journalists and teachers (in a higher education setting) of law and law-related topics.

Characteristics of JD Advantage Jobs Taken by the Class of 2011

  % of Jobs That Are
Full-time and Long-term
# of Jobs
All JD Advantage Jobs* 67.3% 5,107
By Employment Sector:
Academic 39.2 472
Business 79.2 2,363
Private Practice 55.2 928
Government 74.7 799
Public Interest 49.7 519

* Figures are based on jobs for which both duration and full-time/part-time information was reported and thus exclude 107 of the JD Advantage jobs reported taken by the Class of 2011. Job counts by sector do not add to the total because employment sector was not reported for some jobs.

Note: The category of jobs for which type (e.g., bar passage required or other) was not specified accounts for 0.6% of jobs but is not shown on the chart.

Note: For clarity, the category for unknown employer type, representing 0.6% of jobs, is not shown.

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