TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Anderson: The 'JD Advantage' Problem In Law School Placement Rankings

Robert Anderson (Pepperdine), The "JD Advantage" Problem in Law School Placement Rankings:

US News considers so-called "JD Advantage" jobs—those for which the JD is an advantage but not a requirement—the same as "Bar Passage Required" jobs—those for which bar passage is required (plus judicial clerkships). Equating these two categories of job placement outcomes is misguided and makes analysis of the data misleading.

There are two main reasons why the JD Advantage category creates problems. First, JD Advantage jobs on average are not "good" placements (although there are exceptions). Second, what qualifies as a JD Advantage job is vague, making the category highly manipulable. The combination of these two factors with the "full weight" of JD Advantage jobs in US News has made the category a serious problem for the integrity of placement success statistics. Because I don't think the susceptibility of the JD Advantage category to manipulation is terribly controversial, I will focus on Point #1 (that JD Advantage jobs generally are not good placements) to make my case in this post. ...

The data shows strongly that JD Advantage jobs are not associated with "good" placement outcomes in general. That is not to say that all JD Advantage jobs are bad. There are a handful of JD Advantage jobs (probably mostly at elite institutions) in investment banks, consulting, and the like where the graduates could have easily secured a Bar Passage Required job. In most cases, however, large percentages of JD Advantage jobs are indicators of weak placement by the law school and possibly worse, given the inherent manipulability of the JD Advantage category.

I hope this post is enough to put those who analyze law school employment data on notice that JD Advantage jobs require more scrutiny than they currently receive. JD Advantage jobs clearly should not receive "full weight" in the US News formula, as this invites manipulation of job categories by schools and reduces the usefulness of the ranking.  Sophisticated consumers of the data should see this category for what it is—a highly manipulable disguise for generally low-quality placement outcomes. 

For those interested in a more detailed analysis of these same data that suggests more appropriate weights for each job category, my previous analysis (and ranking of schools based on last year's data) can be found here.

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It's not misleading, it's essentially lying.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Jun 2, 2018 4:19:27 AM

For once, I am in agreement with Mike Livingston.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jun 2, 2018 7:09:44 AM

How is a tax job at a Big 4 accounting firm categorized?

Posted by: Tuphat | Jun 2, 2018 2:36:52 PM

Tuphat - Accounting firm jobs would properly be categorized as JD advantage because bar passage is not required to do the work and those with a CPA could do the work as well. Most accounting firms require bar passage if you ever want to be promoted. If you're a new tax lawyer, major accounting firms are some of the best entry level jobs you can get in most markets and are quality "JD advantage" jobs.

Posted by: Awesome Anon Name | Jun 5, 2018 8:13:23 AM

@Awesome Anon Name,

If I am not mistaken, those entry-level JD Advantage jobs at the Big Four also feature pay about $100,000 less than big law firms - no small nit to pick when law school graduates are coming out with $150k to $300k in debt.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jun 5, 2018 8:48:37 AM

UNE - Based on the small sample of people I know and a quick google search, starting pay in NY ranges from $95-$130k. In my particular smaller market, Big 4 ranges from $75-$95k. Those with an LLM with be towards the higher end and those with only a JD will be on the lower end. While these are both lower than the prevailing large law firm pay scales in their markets, the jobs have one advantage for aspiring tax lawyers: they are actually tax focused. In my market, it is very unusual for law firms to hire entry-level tax attorneys, but they are much more likely to take talent from Big 4 firms who were in TAS or M&A. If you know you want to do tax work, Big 4 or large regional accounting firm jobs are a perfectly fine place to start (or maintain) a career in.

Posted by: Awesome Anon Name | Jun 6, 2018 7:24:00 AM

That is quite a bit lower than BigLaw, particularly if the high end of that range requires shelling out another $60k to $90k for a LLM.

"If you know you want to do tax work, Big 4 or large regional accounting firm jobs are a perfectly fine place to start (or maintain) a career in... if you went to a sufficiently pedigreed law school."

- FTFY based on direct experience. My last interaction with an accounting outfit was more along the lines of "If you go back and get a second bachelor's degree in accounting, maybe we'll hire you as an entry level employee."

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jun 6, 2018 9:02:13 AM

No, you really didn't fix anything. You stamped your preconceptions of the topic on the discussion. Biglaw is not the end all be all of the legal profession. NYC is not the center of the universe. Not everybody takes out 200k of loans to go to law school.

In my smaller market, the good accounting firms are within 10-30k of the biglaw firms (market here is $105k), which is still well above small-law salaries (40-55k), don't work people to the bone, and allow aspiring tax lawyers to actually practice tax. Yes, you need good grades and a demonstrated interest in tax (which can be shown with tax law courses without an accounting degree) and yes they pay less than the mega law firms, but they have an upside in that aspiring tax lawyers actually get to practice tax. I'm sorry you were told that you would need another degree to get on with an accounting firm, but that's not the case everywhere.

I maintain my position that Big 4 and large regional accounting firms are good jobs for those lawyers who want to practice tax. Maybe if I caveat that with - "if you don't have absurd amounts of loans and don't live in an extremely high COL location" - you'd get on board?

Posted by: Awesome Anon Name | Jun 6, 2018 9:37:52 PM

Well, here in Boston they still want to see that you went at to least BU or BC for law school; either that or have an accounting degree in addition to the JD. Why? Because there are a million JDs crawling around here and just having that one credential doesn't really impress anyone. The only reason I even got my nose in the door at this one place is because I scraped together several pieces of social capital within it over an extended period of time. And the result was still, at best, a pity interview with an invitation to go back to get a third degree so I can work not as a tax lawyer, but as an entry-level associate - a position whose salary does largely mirror that of very small law firms.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jun 7, 2018 8:15:31 AM