Emergence of the JD Advantage sector means that law school students and graduates have greater job options

August 16, 2019
President’s Message By Lori McMaster

As a career counselor to law students and law school alumni, one of the questions I’m asked most frequently is “What does a JD Advantage job mean?” Put simply, it is a job for which the employer sought a law school graduate, or for which the JD provided a distinct advantage in obtaining or performing the job. JD Advantage jobs do not require formal bar passage (although most law school graduates employed in such jobs have, in fact, passed a bar exam).

Examples of JD Advantage jobs include corporate contracts administrators, ADR specialists, tax associates, regulatory analysts, privacy and cybersecurity specialists, policy and legislative analysts, planned giving officers, etc. Employers who have recently hired graduates of Duquesne University School of Law and/or the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in JD Advantage roles include Ernst & Young, KPMG, Schneider Downs, BNY Mellon, PNC Bank, Eaton, Crown Castle, PwC, ACA Compliance, Mylan, and many more.

This is all very good news; the emergence of the JD Advantage sector means that law school students and graduates have more job options that leverage their legal educations, and it speaks to the significant and growing number of employers in the private and public sectors who understand the value of hiring individuals with a legal education in roles that are heavily steeped in the law. Allegheny County is particularly fortunate to be home to several entities (those corporations mentioned earlier), as well as universities, health systems, insurance companies, foundations and public interest organizations who routinely hire law school graduates into JD Advantage positions.

Maria Comas, Director of Career Services at Duquesne Law, notes “Each year, additional companies are reaching out to us about non-traditional legal opportunities for law graduates and law students. They recognize that these folks bring with them a level of understanding and a skillset that is unique in addressing their business concerns involving compliance, document analysis, and regulatory requirements, among others.”

Maria Comas and I both work in “JD Advantage” roles, as do Duquesne President Ken Gormley and Pitt Chancellor Emeritus Mark Nordenberg. (I just wrote that sentence so that I could have my name mentioned in the same sentence as Ken Gormley and Mark Nordenberg. Hey, being ACBA President has its privileges!) The critical thinking and complex problem solving skills and abilities that legal education provides, as well as the effective communication and advocacy skills, are highly valued by employers across the region. Law school graduates are uniquely equipped to analyze and synthesize information, avoid risk, and develop solutions for the complex problems facing employers in a multitude of employment sectors. The versatility, breadth, and depth of legal education allows law school graduates to leverage their education and experience in ways that other graduate programs do not.

In fact, JD Advantage careers within the legal employment sector have become so common that the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), the trade association that serves law school career services offices and law firm recruitment and professional development professionals, holds annual conferences addressing these emerging careers. The 2019 NALP Summit on Emerging Careers for Law Grads was recently held in Washington, D.C. The summit featured sessions and speakers that addressed emerging careers in block chain and cryptocurrencies, privacy and cybersecurity, health care, sports law, and cannabis law.

Aaron Wright, Director of the Tech Startup Clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, deconstructed the mystique of blockchain, discussed its relevance for the legal industry, and explained what law students and recent graduates can do to make themselves marketable for a variety of professional job opportunities in this rapidly growing field.

Joshua Friedman, Special Counsel at Cooley; Rita Heimes, General Counsel and Data Protection Officer at the International Association of Privacy Professionals; and Lydia Payne-Johnson, Senior IT Risk and Compliance Analyst at George Washington University, participated in a panel discussion that addressed tremendous growth in the areas of data protection, privacy, and cybersecurity as well as the number of law firms that have launched data protection practice groups. They shared practical advice on counseling students interested in this field and connecting with potential employers.

University of Pittsburgh School of Law Dean Amy Wildermuth served on a panel along with Dean Harold Krent of Chicago-Kent College of Law and Dean Melanie Leslie of Cardozo School of Law that discussed JD Advantage careers. The session, entitled “Setting the Tone from the Top: Combating the JD Advantage Stigma,” addressed the importance of encouraging a robust and healthy view of JD Advantage roles and embracing measures to assist students to actively pursue them. According to Dean Wildermuth, “There are many challenging, well-paying opportunities in the Pittsburgh area outside of the scope of traditional practice where a JD is a huge advantage. Several of our very successful graduates have pursued these opportunities in the first instance, or after beginning their career, in a more traditional law firm and have never looked back.”

Dean Wildermuth emphasized “There’s no need to approach this topic from a defensive posture. When you elevate the level of discourse and don’t separate these opportunities from more traditional ones, it’s easy to see that these are highly-desirable positions that pay well and come with many benefits.”

Charlene Davis, Associate Vice President and Head of Healthcare Compliance North America at Sun Pharma Corporate Services; Kevin Dill, General Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer at Tabula Rasa HealthCare; and Jon Smollen, Director of the Center for Compliance & Ethics at Temple University Beasley School of Law, discussed the growth of careers in the health care industry, focusing on areas where entry-level jobs are especially plentiful.

Alex Reid, Associate Compliance Director at the University of Kansas and Brittany Swett, Title IX Investigator and Prevention Specialist, Human Resources at the University of New England, discussed job opportunities in athletic compliance and Title IX work in higher education and highlighted the career paths that can be taken to secure a position in this growing area of the law.

I’ve often said that “where complexity lives, attorneys follow”, and there’s no better example of that than the medical marijuana sector. It has created job opportunities for law school graduates on the production side as well as the regulatory and enforcement side, and everywhere in between. Speaking at the Summit on Emerging Careers, Stacy Keehn, Assistant Dean, University of Ottawa; Dominique Mendiola, Deputy Director of Policy, Licensing & Communication for Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division; and Scott Moskol, a Partner at Burns & Levinson, addressed how legalization of medical marijuana in several states has allowed a lucrative new industry to emerge with its concomitant laws and regulatory schemes.

The other question I frequently receive is “Why would a law school graduate aspire to work in a JD Advantage job rather than in private practice?” The answers to that are numerous and diverse, and very much depend upon the individual graduate. Often, a graduate is simply seeking an opportunity to delve more deeply into an area of law that intrigues them – regardless of whether the opportunity exists within a private law firm or elsewhere. Recent law school graduates seek, above all, to be valued, to have an impact, and to engage in complex, satisfying work that enables them to be engaged with their families and the community. With the constriction of private practice opportunities after the Great Recession, it’s encouraging to see that there has been significant growth in the legal employment sector where JD Advantage roles are concerned.

Please do share any thoughts or questions with me at mcmaster@pitt.edu or 412-648-2359.

All my best, Lori.