Ten Jobs Where JDs Beat Other Candidates Hands Down
New evidence suggests that the knowledge and skills of the JD-prepared worker will continue to provide important leverage in employment well into the expansion, as well as a hedge against downside risk in a recession.
In a new longitudinal study, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) looked at key trends in the employment market for new lawyers over the last 25 years. It showed that 18% of the law school classes of 2011-2014 held “JD Advantage” or “JD Preferred” jobs, up from prior years. (The two terms are often used interchangeably by employers, be sure to check both when searching.)
And these are well-paying jobs. For example, JD Advantage jobs held by the 2011 class one year from graduation, averaged full-time employment income of nearly $64,000. Their work ranged from Government (agency and legislative) and Public Interest (advocacy groups) to Banking and Academic roles.
The longitudinal report’s key findings also included:
Over this 25-year time span, we can also see how growth in business jobs occurred in recessionary/post-recessionary periods starting in 1993 and 2010. It should be noted that both the number of graduates and the percentage for whom employment status was known has increased in the past 25 years. However, the broad contours of the trend remain, and it is clear that there has been a net gain in the number of jobs as shown by the additional chart on the number of jobs reported in business and industry from 1992-2016. And in fact, taking the figures back to 1992 shows that the number of jobs has more than doubled…
Clearly, employers love JDs and see the people who have them as bringing significant advantages to the roles they occupy. Part of this is surely just the fact that a JD proves the candidate can handle a rigorous, long-term goal or commitment, something employers see lacking in many candidates.
In truth, there are many, many JD Advantage jobs – one author counts over 1100 — but here are ten of the more interesting and relevant today:
- 1. Entrepreneur
Legal knowledge – or a friend who has it and will help for free – is essential for anyone starting a business. Navigating entity formation, private placement funding, leasing and other contracts, and successful public offerings takes confidence and moxie, but also knowledge of the law and the skills to accomplish things with it and within it.
- 2. Contract Administrator
Industries involved in regular contracting, for materials and inventory procurement, intellectual property licensing, equipment leasing, and a wide range of other business activities, have come to respect the skills of lawyers, working in-house with or without law licenses, to ensure appropriate and timely contract documentation is in place, the other party is performing as promised, and the company is keeping out of trouble.
- 3. Compliance Manager
The growth of regulation has spawned a new compliance function within many big companies, well-funded and very important to the organization’s success. Public companies, and those in the health care and financial services industries, are particularly likely to employ compliance managers. Like contract managers, these professionals are engaged in risk avoidance and management, by applying an understanding of the regulatory environment to create procedures and provide oversight to ensure companies – and their employees – don’t break the rules.
- 4. Government – Executive Level
Senior leadership roles in federal, state and local agencies and departments are often occupied by JDs, in many cases because they acquired the degree while working in the field. The advantages are obvious because, like any large employer, the government faces HR issues that are consistent and specialized, on top of the need to understand operating accountabilities, rulemaking requirements, and political/legal considerations tied to decisions. While senior government roles are hard to acquire without significant prior government experience, those already working in a related government field can sometimes find it an easy lateral move, especially when political leadership heads turn over.
- 5. Medical Practice Management
Professional practices (law, medicine, veterinary medicine, accountancy, engineering, etc.) have become smarter about how they manage their affairs. They’ve learned that solid, professional management often leads to greater success than internal leadership — by busy professionals conducting the practice. Because these businesses face increasing regulatory, compliance, and litigation burdens, JD-trained managers and executives, with experience operating businesses and dealing with boards, can often be chosen for these practice management roles over other candidates without that background.
- 6. Legislative Member or Staff
Less true today than it once was, but still common, lawyers predominate among those who shape our nation’s laws, both at the federal and state levels. JDs (or JD wannabees), with or without bar licenses, work on almost every congressional staff because of the business of making law and dealing with constituents. The work calls on the very best skills JDs acquire in law schools (analysis, argumentation, research, etc.) Also, as leaders in their communities, JDs are also often called to run for office, and the skills they have can make them attractive and successful candidates in the right political environments.
- 7. Venture Capitalist or Private Equity Associate
In good economic times, a surprising number of positions are available in senior and supporting roles in the growing private finance sector. JDs with MBA, accounting, or finance backgrounds are especially competitive for these positions, which often entail a unique blend of business analytics, business leadership, and relationship sales (to the funders). Pay is solid, and the upsides of potential deal participation can be enormous. Many of the positions available are with large, well-established financial firms in major markets, but for those with an appetite for more risk, others are ground level with new funds and entities.
- 8. Human Resources Director
Hardly any job, modernly, requires more knowledge of the law in a specialized area than human resources. HR touches on contracting, privacy, defamation, theft, harassment, discrimination, and other weighty legal topics, as well as an entire range of regulatory compliance issues. Almost any manager or executive has the basics to move into HR as a career, though of course, HR has unique certifications the candidate will also want to gain over time. One downside had been pay, as HR management until recently was not compensated as well as some other senior leadership roles. But with the advent of C-suite level HR jobs (such as the Chief Development Officer for a major law firm recently advertised as a JD Preferred job) this is changing.
- 9. Banking and Financial Officer
The big financial firms (JP Morgan/Chase, Bank of America, Citi, etc.) employ JDs for senior roles in leadership and management of their investment banking, compliance, private banking and wealth management, estate and trust administration, and financing operations. Of course, a background in accounting or finance is usually helpful, but some of the roles are really operations, safety, or sales oriented, so candidates with those backgrounds should take a look. The rise of retail banking has also stoked a huge demand for responsible, experienced advisors, analysts, and managers in retail branches, for which a JD is almost always considered an advantage. There are literally thousands of jobs regularly available in financial services where a JD is credited as a qualification or preference.
- 10. Entertainment/Sport Manager
In truth, jobs in this industry are very hard to come by, and most people doing this work moved into it with a JD acquired after they were already part of the industry. But with literally millions of people engaged in professional and semi-professional sports, traditional entertainment, reality entertainment, gaming, endorsements, YouTube celebrity vlogging, and other modern communications activities, there are literally millions of opportunities to work in this field. Many of those doing it do not have the background in contract and intellectual property law that JD graduates may have. For the right candidate, with experience and the right connections, it can be a great path to self-employment and a lucrative career with enormous potential. Representing just one big star, a manager can be set for life.
Thousands of jobs are available across the country in these categories. Salaries for these jobs are typically above the norm and reaching levels that can match the pay experienced graduates expect from their current employment in other areas. Employers are clearly willing to pay well for workers with the JD credential and some work experience in the topical area of their business.
Look for Part 1, where we cover the more than 10,000 jobs posted on popular job boards where the JD is “Preferred” or an “Advantage.”
1 See Jobs in Business and Industry: A 25 Year Retrospective, 1992-2017
2 NALP defines “JD Advantage” jobs as: “Jobs in this category are those for which the employer sought an individual with a JD, and perhaps even required a JD, or for which the JD provided a demonstrable advantage in obtaining or performing the job, but are jobs that do not require bar passage, an active law license, or involve practicing law. Examples of positions for which a JD is an advantage include a job as a corporate contracts administrator, alternative dispute resolution specialist, government regulatory analyst, FBI agent, and accountant. Also included might be jobs in personnel or human resources, jobs with investment banks, jobs with consulting firms, jobs doing compliance work for business and industry, jobs in law firm professional development, and jobs in law school career services offices, admissions offices, or other law school administrative offices. Doctors or nurses who plan to work in a litigation, insurance, or risk management setting or as expert witnesses could fall into this category, as could journalists and teachers (in a higher education setting) of law and law-related topics.
4 For more on JD Advantage Jobs and great overall career tracking advice take a look at Richard L. Hermann’s Legal Career View on JD Advantage Jobs
Gregory J. Brandes is a law professor and Dean of St. Francis School of Law. He is an expert on legal education and admission to the bar and is admitted to the bars of the United States Supreme Court, Colorado, and Illinois.