Debunking Legal Job Myths #3: JD Advantage Jobs Pay Poorly

The conventional wisdom among legal career “experts” is that JD Advantage jobs (positions for which a law degree is an advantage, but not necessarily a requirement) pay poorly and thus are no help in paying off student debt. The conventional wisdom, however, is wrong. A wide variety of JD Advantage jobs pay quite well, competitively with mainstream legal positions. Some, in fact, pay better than legal positions and those in high demand are seeing compensation increase more rapidly than attorney pay.

How Much Do Attorneys Earn?

That depends on whom you ask. A University of Tennessee law professor who studies the profession says that the average attorney earns only $46,000 per year and that attorney compensation is at best static, at worst declining. That figure seems pretty low to me. Payscale.com in contrast, says that its survey reveals that average annual earnings are $81,000 per year. That seems about right.

Remember that these figures are average ones. Do not be deluded by the mega-compensation awarded “BigLaw” lawyers. There aren’t all that many of them. Sole practitioners, a category that encompasses more than 25 percent of the attorney population, average only $49,000 per year (IRS). There are also wide disparities in compensation depending on practice area, geography, and type and size of employer, etc.

Both the IRS statistics and those published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that attorney compensation is increasing only incrementally.

JD Advantage Compensation

Examining a variety of JD Advantage positions reveals some striking contrasts to the humdrum level and pace of attorney compensation. Compliance Officers, for example, earn an average of $76,000 (Glassdoor.com) or $105,000 (Society of Corporate Compliance & Ethics). Risk Managers average $103,000 (Glassdoor.com). Technology Commercialization professionals are compensated at an average rate of $77,000 (Payscale.com); Government Relations officers-$79,000 (Salary.com http://salary.com); Landmen (Oil and Gas)-$125,000 (American Association of Professional Landmen). Note: This organization’s latest  survey was conducted in 2010. Landman compensation has increased significantly since then.

These are just a few examples of JD Advantage jobs that promise rewarding alternative careers for attorneys. Two things are also important to note. Compensation in all of these disciplines is growing at a much faster annual rate than mainstream attorney compensation, and demand for these skills exceeds the supply of qualified individuals. An attorney without specific qualifications for these positions can ably supplement a law degree with a certificate that is reasonably priced and not very time-consuming. Several examples of such certificates follow.

Selected Certificate Programs

Society of Corporate Compliance & Ethics–Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional (self-study followed by an online test option)

American Institute for CPCU & Insurance Institute of America–Associate in Risk Management (ARM)(online)

University of California, Berkeley Extension–Certificate in Technology Transfer and Commercialization

Association of Government Relations Professionals–Lobbying Certificate Program (online)

American Association of Professional Landmen–Certified Professional Landman