As law school enrollment continues to decline, the "JD-Advantage" moniker, the "also-ran" of the legal employment world, is touted more and more.
JD-Advantage jobs have never been terribly prominent. According to NALP, 6% of graduates were employed in these positions in 2001. In 2011, the percentage doubled (!) to 12.5%. One could argue that this is due to the popularity of the credential. One could also argue (as I do) that this is an artifact of the 2008 recession and years prior, coupled with the blood-letting that occurred in BigLaw and MidLaw. These graduates gotta go somewhere. One man’s purposeful choice is another man’s last resort.
If you think about this for a minute, 6% of 30,000 graduates is 1,800. 12.5% of 40,000 graduates is 5,000. This is not a lot of jobs in either scenario. Especially when you spread them out across the entire country.
Where do these graduates go for their long-term renumerative pay? Of the 5,000 JD-Advantage jobs in 2011, 12% are law clerks and 3% are paralegals. You know, the jobs that often have "no JD candidates need apply" explicit in the ad. The irony here, that 750 people are working in positions where they could be doing the actual job the credential is for, but aren’t, is astounding. This is an advantage?
4%, or 200 people, are working in "Legal Temp Agencies". Yep, I certainly spent $200k on a law degree for the "advantage" of doing doc review at the mercy of the temp agencies, along with all the other law school graduates who were seeking a traditional job as an attorney. Maybe these are supposed to be the folks in charge, but the data is not clear.
What about the other 4,000? 350 (7%) work in banking or in finance. 175 work in technology and management consulting, respectively (3.5% each). 150 work in accounting firms (3%). A catch-all 1,000 work in "other business settings not specifically tracked," whatever that means (20%).
How about government? 15% land in federal, state, or local administrative agencies. Of this slice, 70 folks (1.4%) are in state legislative positions. Pretty cool, but I imagine those positions were not granted purely because of the sparkly JD itself. The other 14% in this category were formerly known as "other" positions – not legislative, not military, not court-related. But it sounds better to call them administrative-agency jobs. And there are 700 of them!
And of course, Academia clocks in at 9%. Half of these were research assistant/fellow positions, and law school hires make up some of the rest (of course). Public Interest gets another 10%.
The only thing encouraging is the reported salaries. They range from $40k to $70k, with an (actual, for once) average of $63k. The pay scale could be worthwhile, but for the albatross of law school debt that is usually incurred (and not required) for the position.
While NALP deserves some credit for putting the data out there, the interpretation of the data is always key. NALP seems to be saying "look, here are 5,000 jobs cut out of whole cloth!" and "the demand for JDs in non-traditional fields is increasing!" "Sign up for law school!"
The demand for JD-Advantage jobs, however, is only 15% of the national pool of law graduates. Historically it was less, when attorney positions were more plentiful. Think about this – only one in seven of your classmates theoretically get these positions nationally, and they are positions where no JD is required in the first place and you are competing with other candidates who do not have this credential. This is not a high hit-rate. This does not scream "JD-Advantage."
I’m not saying that a law degree is not potentially valuable in and of itself in some universe, but I am saying that the market is not clamoring for it right now, today, as a requirement for obtaining a full-time job. And it certainly does not justify the sticker price to get there. For example, here is another percentage - $1,200/month to Sallie Mae is 25% of one’s GROSS salary at $60k per year. That’s a lot of scratch for that "JD-Advantage" position.
In conclusion, always examine the motives. What is often left unsaid is that these JD-Advantage positions tend to go to people who were already practicing attorneys and moved into these roles after years of business-building and practical experience, while 40,000 new graduates are pumped out into the market per year in the intervening time. NALP publishing this data in May 2013 is no coincidence, when applications to law school are down 20% for this year alone. Do not go to law school to pin all your hopes on getting a "JD-Advantage" position straight out of law school, unless you have strong connections and can do it debt-free.
UPDATE: Ben Barros has some interesting (and perhaps self-serving) data about Widener Law grads and how outcomes aren't as bad as people think, or something. His category definitions for "JD Advantage" and "Professional" are (self-admittedly) blurry, but there are some nuggets of insight. He echos the sentiment that JD Advantage includes BigLaw Associates moving on to greener pastures. The jobs are very "onesey-twosey" and are all over the map. The "Professionals" are not "JD-Advantage" types in that they went on to also get MBAs, CPAs, or the like as part of their careers. Looks like the JD didn't cut it all by itself - so, MOAR EDUCATION!
Combining these categories together to put things in the best possible light, we're talking 10%-20% of the class, depending how you measure. Stand back, ya'll.
Salaries? Oh, right...good point. Brian Tamanaha brought that question up vis-a-vis student loan debt, and Barros doesn't have that information. To be fair, Barros can't hold an envelope to his forehead and know the answer, but the distinct lack of data should give us all pause. But going with NALP's data, that 10%-20% is making approximately $60k with significant educational debt.
UPDATE II: Hey, LSAC, where is my three-year volume update? You guys went from updates every two weeks to no data at all for April 2013, at least as of 5/7/2013. Cat got your tounge?
UPDATE III: Oh, SNAP! I figured if I raged against the machine, then the results would come out. As of 5/10/2013, looks like we're clocking in towards a nice, steady 55k total applicants for 2013.