The JD “Advantage”

Northwestern law dean Dan Rodriguez has taken the mantle of AALS Head Cheerleader, arguing on the one hand that the Legal Academy “gets it” when it comes to the problems facing law students and new lawyers after having pissed away a ton of money and opportunity on their JD, while simultaneously perpetuating the myth that they can continue doing things as they always have because it makes lawprofs happy.  And anyone who disagrees can shut up.

Let the scamblogging games commence!!
I should have added to above: law faculty with whom I meet are remarkably resilient and positive in the face of the bottomless pit of screed and invective that comes by way of (mostly) anonymous bloggers.

Posted by: dan rodriguez | Jun 9, 2014 9:34:08 AM

But while scambloggers don’t have much of a soapbox these days, Above the Law remains the 800 lb. gorilla (sorry, Elie, but I had to) in the lecture hall.  A debate broke out on Facebook over ATL’s failure to include solos in their law school rankings, and Rodriguez jumped in with such constructive thoughts as

With all respect to David Lat, his response on behalf of ATL is incoherent. They know their approach makes no sense, but they persist in this.

And the gloves are off. Discussion then turns to why ATL doesn’t count another AALS beloved category of jobs, which would certainly help to show people the greater glory of law school.  After Dan engages in some serious Facebook smack talk, he pulls back with a more “official” statement couched in the dulcet tones of the Academy:

Actually, there are a wide and broad range of careers which are not only available to JD holders, but are rather attractive to folks who have gone through law school. Some of this has to do with money – again, salaries in consulting firms and major corporate compliance departments, are generous – and some of it has to do with quality of life…

What the wholesale disregard of JD advantage jobs does is to deny, without adequate evidence, that some law students at the margin choose to go to JD advantage jobs, even where opportunities in Biglaw (not to mention Mediumlaw) are available. While I wouldn’t exaggerate this phenomenon, it happens not infrequently and the combination of omitting this data point from your rankings and, correlatively, making fun of law schools which (like mine) have a critical mass of students who pursue these non-traditional career paths, you risk giving a misleading picture of a marketplace that is more nuanced and diverse than meets the eye.

One last point : The kinds of positions which are reflected in the JD advantage category – not all of them, to be sure, but a decent number – are at the cutting edge of a crucial developing phenomenon in the U.S. economy. This is the increasing interface among law, business, and technology.

Yes, he really wrote “interface.” Stop laughing. That’s rude.  So what of the new category of fabulous job opportunities available to law school graduates under the heading of “JD Advantaged”?

To an unknown degree, there are no doubt law school graduates who figure out that practicing law isn’t for them, and they do well to find alternate positions to find a career path best suited to their needs, competencies and desires.  There is nothing to be ashamed about in realizing that you don’t want to be a lawyer, you just wasted tons of money and three years of your life, and you need a job.  No, seriously. It’s cool.

But I’m going to guess that’s a small fraction of students.  The creation of the JD Advantage tag is a marketing creature, covering what used to be known as JD preferred, positions where an employer didn’t require a law degree, but really wanted the new hire to have one.  It sounds way cooler to call it JD Advantage rather than JD Couldn’t Get A Law Job.

The problem with the marketing scheme is that it’s impossible to define that category of jobs where a law degree is truly advantageous.  McKinsey?  Fair enough. Dairy Queen? What manager wouldn’t want to have a waffle cone filler at his beck and call, just in case he needs someone to quote contract law when some jerk customer beefs about the proper size of a small cone with sprinkles?  Advantage?

What this sordid exchange shows is that the AALS may have learned enough to change up its rhetoric, at least under controlled circumstances like one of their own blogs like Prawfs, to give us the warm and fuzzies about how they’ve learned from the precipitous drop in enrollment, the free-for-all on Facebook shows that there is still a belief that if they can just weather the storm of a bad legal economy, law school can remain the playground of law professors, who have to occasionally teach a class to justify their efforts at scholarly hegemony.

In other words, they don’t get it, and Dan Rodriguez isn’t taking crap from anybody who wants to question him.  A one-time scambloger, who shall remain nameless for reasons that will soon become obvious, explained to me when I asked him why he went from rather vocal to nearly non-existent, that the years he spent ripping law school had given way to the need to earn a living to pay back his student loans to the extent possible.  He could no longer dedicate his internet life to scamblogging.

He grew up and went to work.

The young lawyers who wanted nothing more than to get themselves a job practicing law, but were part of the lost generation who found themselves saddled with debt and no hope for a job, had to eventually move on.  The AALS, on the other hand, had to do nothing more than hold them off long enough to pretend they were never there, to come up with a new marketing scheme that would ignore the systemic problems with law school and bring new blood, and new money, back into the fold.  And that’s what Dan Rodriguez and his AALS Is trying to accomplish.

Problem solved.  Except for all those young lawyers whose lives are destroyed under the crush of debt and no law jobs.  But there are always jobs to be had at Dairy Queen, and rest assured they are JD Advantage.

10 thoughts on “The JD “Advantage”

  1. Charlesmorrison

    My firm hosts local “externs” as they call them, and it’s a necessary task to get your JD. Obviously we’re listed in the resume and often asked to provide feedback about certain topics. I have seen a number of them applying for positions such as “contract specialist.” I believe this would fall into the category the Dean is discussing. I’ve spoken to a few of the former externs and, believe me, they’re not pleased about having to apply for these gigs. Could they have gotten the job without the JD? Maybe not, but that was not their intention in going to law school. They haven’t considered the early days out of law school a resounding success story.

    As an aside, and because I know you are pretty bully on customer service, these employers like to now email me randomly and arbitrarily place a deadline on when I am to have a response to their questionnaire regarding the extern back. “Your responses are due in Seven days.”

    I thought people ought to pick up the phone. These HR folks think they own everyone else’s time now, apparently.

      1. Charlesmorrison

        Contempt of HR I guess.
        Problem is, I don’t want to harm these kids’ chances. Weird and insulting for sure.

  2. BL1y


    I wonder if my new gig would be considered JD Advantage? For those of you curious, it’s teaching college writing (fka freshman comp).

    If I were the Dan Rodriguezi of the world, I’d say that my new job involves critical reading skills, logical reasoning, using evidence, constructing arguments, and of course, persuasive writing (or more specifically, teaching all of these skills), and law school teaches all of these skills. JD Advantage!

    Of course the reality is that the vast majority of people in these jobs don’t have JDs. They have MAs in literature, and MFAs in creative writing, and a few PhDs. The JD didn’t help in the hiring decision, that was based almost entirely on the strength of my portfolio, which includes a syllabus, teaching philosophy, sample assignments, and several graded essays with comments. On the other hand, the hiring committee did ask why I’d want to be a lowly freshman comp instructor (the JD doesn’t even get me the title of Professor). rather than a wealthy lawyer. I’ll omit my answer here because it’s not important. What’s important is that the question implies that the JD was a disadvantage. It carries with it a presumption of being a failure, a washout. …Not that it’s an entirely inaccurate presumption, though it is simplistic. In other situations the JD raises the presumption that you’ll jump ship as soon as possible.

    And then there’s the debt…

    1. SHG Post author

      There ya go, harshing Dan’s mellow with reality. You kids, always making law school deans feel bad.

      1. BL1Y

        But I hear law school deans and professors are remarkably positive and resilient.

        Of course, it’s easy to be resilient with a six figure salary, a home you own outright, and a fridge full of fresh noms.

        1. SHG Post author

          Let the scamblogging games commence!!

          See? Now I’ve trivialized anything you say so you can’t hurt Dan’s feelings ever again.

          1. BL1Y

            How is there not yet a term for the law school cheerleader blogging? I’m going to propose scamsplain.

            “Oh look, here comes Dan to scamsplain to us why law schools really do care.”

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