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ATL vs. Law Dean vs. Common Sense

Dean Rodriguez’s statement:

I do think that my principal disagreement with the ATL rankings (echoing some of the comments LST, Tamanaha and others have made over the past couple of years) concerns how one measures employment. Frankly, ATL has been too quick to adopt this meme of “non-Biglaw = barista at Starbucks” or, perhaps less provocatively, “non-Biglaw = not a job appropriate to a JD holder.” Moreover, and I acknowledge this is a distinct point, there are difficulties with evaluating and assessing JD-advantage jobs, difficulties which are less palpable when you are just going down the list of law firms and plugging in employment data.

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. ATL pushes relentlessly the point that only an idiot wouldn’t want to work for Rodriguez, Dalton, and Lat for $160K, if the opportunity presents itself. But what we know about Biglaw is that it is not for everyone. 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.

As to the practical difficulties with assessing JD advantage positions, here is where my comment you quoted below is apt. Why do not law schools list the positions that their graduates take? If there are concerns with respect to confidentiality, as the information becomes more fine-grained, then perhaps at least a representative sampling of those positions would be warranted. ATL ought not to fret any more about this self-reported data than it does with law firm data generally. Law schools caught given inaccurate or misleading information should be castigated just as they have been in recent years and just as they deserve.

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. We are seeing some shift from traditional legal positions which require credentialed lawyers to positions in the business sector which draw upon significant legal skills, developed within a law school setting. These are positions of impact and of influence, and they emerge from a growing sense that some innovative businesses (especially in the high technology sector) require an admixture of skills and training. Bottom line is that entrepreneurs often need folks with substantial legal skills; they do not always need licensed attorneys. ATL might acknowledge – and even promote – this development by focusing in earnest on these modalities of new legal employment.

Rankings which instantiate the distinction between so-called “real” lawyers and lawyers who are focused on law, business, and technology in the new economy are old wine in new internet-enabled bottles.

My response:

There is nothing much here to disagree with. The problem for us is making meaningful distinctions among the non-lawyer jobs, distinctions we can’t make without more information. If schools shared Dean Rodriguez’s willingness to provide more fine-grained data, the problem goes away. Thus far schools have simply referred us to their ABA form or just provided the same exact info. We’ll keep asking though.

The emphasis on Biglaw positions on our part is a function of two things: (1) we actually have the numbers (and must argue that these jobs are a decent proxy for ‘good jobs’ generally), and (2) the realities of a debt-financed legal education make the emphasis more reasonable than it should be. Dean Rodriguez is right that Biglaw is not for everyone (it certainly wasn’t for me), and neither are our rankings.

We also agree that the “barista” meme needs to be retired.

(hidden for your protection)

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