To understand why this is a myth, we must first define two terms:
Mainstream attorneys are law grads admitted to a state bar. This cohort largely encompasses sole practitioners, members of law firms, corporate (both for-profit and non-profit) in-house counsel lawyers, and practitioners who work as attorneys in government law offices.
“JD Advantage” Positions
These are jobs for which a law degree (but not necessarily bar admission) is preferred or desired, but not always required. Examples of these positions are legion (my current list, begun more than 20 years ago, is now up to 1,100). Here is a small selection:
- Carbon Transactions Manager
- Compliance Officer
- Contract Specialist
- EEO Mediator
- FDA Regulatory Counsel
- FBI Special Agent
- Legislative Assistant
- Risk Manager
- Social Security Disability Claimant Representative
- Victims Rights Advocate
Attorneys and law students who restrict themselves to seeking mainstream attorney jobs are missing out on a vast number of opportunities where they can put their education and experience to highly effective, remunerative use.
A significant number of JD Advantage job titles are represented by large populations. For example:
Compliance professionals now number just under 300,000, and their number is growing more rapidly than the attorney population (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Industry officials tell me that the BLS statistics are conservative.
Risk management professionals number several hundred thousand. Growth has been impressive in the 21st century, with no end in sight.
While there are no good sources of nationwide numbers for landmen—primarily oil and gas company employees who negotiate directly with landowners to acquire and administer drilling leases—one state’s recent hiring experience is instructive: More than 20,000 landman jobs have been created in Pennsylvania in the past five years. Many of these are being filled by attorneys.
Many JD Advantage positions pay higher starting and average salaries than law. Selected average compensation levels:
- Attorney Ave Annual Earnings: $81,000 (Payscale)
- Sole Practitioner: $49,000 (IRS)
- Compliance Officer: $76,000 (Glassdoor); $105,000 (Society of Corp. Compliance & Ethics)
- Risk Manager: $103,000 (Glassdoor)
- Technology Transfer Professional: $77,000 (Payscale)
- Government Relations Officer: $79,000 (Salary.com)
- Landman (Oil and Gas): $125,455 (AAPL 2010)
Moreover, salaries for all of the listed JD Advantage positions are increasing faster than attorney compensation.
Positioning Yourself for JD Advantage Jobs
For many JD Advantage positions, law school courses are sufficient preparation. Examples include contracting and procurement; asylum officer; civil rights analyst; real estate acquisitions specialist; and estate tax examiner. There are also more than 400 certificate and comparable educational programs that can supplement a law degree and prepare an attorney for a JD Advantage job. These are far less expensive than an LLM and also far less time-consuming. Moreover, the majority of JD Advantage employers accept them as strong platforms when recruiting for such positions.