Facebook, Law School Deans, Law Schools, Rankings

ATL vs. Law Dean vs. Common Sense

Recently, a solo practitioner somewhere in the Midwest posted on Facebook about her “incredible” annoyance at the fact that the ATL Law School Rankings do not count solos (and therefore her) as part of a school’s “employment score.”1

That’s unremarkable, of course. We don’t expect or intend that our approach will please everybody. Anyway, the resultant comment thread was, for the most part, a thoughtful discussion of the pros and cons of excluding solo practitioners in evaluating a particular law school school class’s employment outcomes. Again, all of this is unremarkable, and — especially considering the ATL rankings were published back in April — hardly worth noting now. But one particular commenter really, seriously disliked the ATL rankings methodology. Before you say “so what?” (or “me too”), consider the commenter is indisputably one of the most influential law school deans in the country. Not only that, this dean made a “suggestion” in the course of the discussion that, if it were adopted, would be a game changer for how law schools would share employment data….

1 It must be noted that the solo did not read or did not understand our methodology in the first place. Our employment scores measure the most recent class ten months after graduation. She only recently began her practice. Prior to that she worked for a couple years as a public defender, a job that would have been counted under our formula.

The commenter-dean is Daniel Rodriguez of Northwestern Law, the current president of the American Association of Law Schools. Dean Rodriguez characterized the ATL rankings (and attempts to defend them) as, among other things, “incoherent,” “bad,” and “inexplicable.” Though the dean seemed to support the inclusion of solos in calculating an “employment score,” it seems his real displeasure was over how we ignore the so-called “JD Advantage” jobs. (The concept of “JD Advantage” jobs dates back to 2011, when the term replaced “JD Preferred.” NALP and the ABA use the term to describe a category of jobs “for which bar passage is not required but for which a JD degree provides a distinct advantage.” Examples include human resources professionals, journalists, and FBI agents.) 2

Anyway, after a certain point, yours truly (Brian Dalton) felt obliged to join the Facebook conversation and point out that we would actually strongly prefer to include law grads who go on to those “corporate positions of distinction.” Yet “JD Advantage” is just too nebulous a label and, as long as it’s the schools who define what it means, it won’t be part of our rankings formula. Dean Rodriguez’s response:

[W]hat if you and others simply insisted that law schools listed these positions and let your readers make their own informed choices? Not a non-starter at all. As to the rest of the silliness in your post, all I suppose it is worth knowing is that your (JD advantage?) “Job” is “research director for Above the Law.” LOL, as one might say.

Well okay then. Putting aside the sneer “quotes” and the charges of general silliness, this is a very surprising and most welcome suggestion. (The actual comments thread is reproduced at the end of this post.) If this suggestion were to be adopted, we would obviously have a much better sense of graduate employment outcomes.

As it stands, it is hard to know what to make of the “JD Advantage” category. For example, if we look at the class of 2013 from all the ATL Top 50 Law Schools, we see that 1,586 graduates found employment in either the “JD Advantage” or “Other Professional” categories. These two categories are only distinguished by someone’s determination that, in the case of the former, a JD provides a “distinct advantage.” This distinct advantage was absent only 15% of the time: there are only 238 non-legal, non-“JD Advantage” “professional” jobs in this group. We’ve seen a lot of debate recently over whether it’s true that “you can do anything with a law degree.” Are law schools also telling us that no matter what you do — at least 85% of the time, anyway — your JD offers a distinct advantage?

I yield the floor to my colleague, Elie Mystal.

Elie here. Dalton is maybe too nice and decent of a person to say it, so allow me. JD Advantage jobs are a giant crock of s**t.

Beyond the quantitative difficulties behind actually determining which jobs are “advantaged” via a law degree, there is a philosophical point that all of these “you can do anything with a law degree” people consistently overlook. You can’t look at jobs that are “advantaged” by getting a JD without also considering that doing damn near anything for THREE YEARS can “advantage” you on the job market.

Take my job. It’s easy to call my job a JD Advantage job… while I don’t need a JD to do it (obviously), I likely wouldn’t have gotten this job without a law degree. Even if you think I needed a JD to work at ATL (again, NOT AN OBVIOUS STATEMENT), I didn’t need it to be a “blogger.” I didn’t need it to work at Huffington Post or Business Insider or ElieThreatensWhitePeople.com. AND focusing on my current job (statistically indistinguishable from many other “journalism jobs”) doesn’t take into account all of the things I could have done with three years of my freaking life back had I not gone to law school.

JD Advantage jobs are law deans trying to double count the opportunity cost you already paid by going to law school in the first place. They always want prospective law students to consider law school in a vacuum, as if the choice is going to law school or sitting on your couch masturbating for three years. Actually, prospective law students are choosing between this specific degree, or doing any number of things that in three years might well benefit their employment options, usually without crushing debt. If you don’t want to work as a LAWYER, you shouldn’t spend three years training to be one. If you instead spend three years training to do what you want to do, you will have an advantage.

Oh, and if you want a generally applicable, respected education that allows you to do almost anything you want… GO TO HARVARD. You CAN do anything with one of those degrees. But I don’t suppose law deans want us to count “Harvard Advantage” positions in our rankings.

(Please continue reading for the original Facebook thread. Also, we reached out to Dean Rodriguez for further comment and he responded, reaffirming and expanding on his suggestion that schools ought to provide more fine-grained information concerning “JD Advantage” jobs.)

2 These non-legal positions apparently are a particular emphasis at Northwestern—the school site even has a page devoted to extolling them and criticizing ATL’s rankings methodology. This makes sense, especially considering the law school’s connection to the Kellogg School of Management and the JD/MBAs who go on to business careers.

(hidden for your protection)

comments sponsored by

Show all comments