The best schools for getting a job in a large law firm

February 26

The National Law Journal has released its ranking of law schools based on the percentage of graduates going to the its list of the 250 biggest law firms.  Unfortunately, the charts are behind an expensive paywall, and free registration at the National Law Journal will not allow you to access them.  You can see a bit more of them at Above the Law.

NLJ Go-To Schools 2

 At the top are Columbia, NYU  and Harvard, with Chicago, Penn  and Northwestern also placing more than half of their graduates in the largest law firms.  Yale, which ranks 13th, doesn’t rank in the top ten probably because so many of its graduates go into other kinds of jobs, such as academics and government.

That observation suggests a limitation of NLJ’s study: not everyone wants to work in a large law firm, so this ranking measures the preferences of graduates, as well as that of employers.  On the other hand, these data reflect real-world behavior, rather than opinions or questionable data on hiring success reported by the law schools themselves.

The National Law Journal also has a table comparing their Go-To Biglaw ranks with US News ranks.  The two schools on that list that most improve on their US News ranking are Howard, followed by Santa Clara.  Among the US News top 25, the biggest jumps are for the University of Illinois and Fordham; and among the top 15 schools the biggest improvements on the NLJ list compared to US News are Northwestern and Duke.

One interesting cut is to get a rough idea of what percentage of hires from each school stick around and make partner.  Of course, the best way to do this would be to compare the group hired in 2004-2007 for each school to the number of grads from that school who made partner this year (and average similar results over several years).  But one can get a rough idea from comparing the number making partner in 2013 to the number hired that year.  Among graduates of the US News top-17 schools, in 2013 about 8 times as many lawyers were hired in Biglaw as made partner.  If hiring levels were about the same 6-9 years before, then very roughly about 12% of hires in Biglaw in that era eventually made partner in Biglaw.  If the hiring classes were larger before the recession, then the percentage making partner eventually is even lower.

Among the US News top-17 schools, by this very crude measure (new 2013 partners to new 2013 hires), Vanderbilt does the best, followed by Stanford and Michigan, and at the bottom is Duke, which is just above Columbia and Penn.  While I don’t think one can glean too much from this comparison, it does suggest that being at the top in placement (as Columbia is) is not a guarantee that making partner will be any easier for Columbia graduates.  Yet if making partner in New York is harder than elsewhere, then schools who place disproportionately in New York (such as Columbia) may be at a disadvantage in this comparison.

Jim Lindgren is a law professor at Northwestern University, with a BA from Yale and a JD and a PhD in (quantitative) sociology from the University of Chicago. He is a cofounder of the Section on Scholarship of the Association of American Law Schools and a former chair of its Section on Social Science and the Law.
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