Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Which Law School Grads Get Big Firm Jobs?

Which law schools have the best job of sending their graduates to BigLaw firms? The answers might be different than you might expect:
A bigger percentage of students graduating from top law schools in 2007 took jobs at NLJ 250 law firms than those graduating in 2006. Columbia landed in the No. 1 spot again as the school that sent the greatest portion of graduates to NLJ 250 law firms, with nearly 75% of its students in 2007 taking jobs among the nation's largest law firms. The school ranked No. 1 last year, when 69.6% of its graduates went to NLJ 250 law firms. ...

All together, the top 20 law schools that NLJ 250 law firms relied on most to fill their first-year associate ranks sent 54.9% of their graduates to those firms, compared with 51.6% in 2006. ... In 2007, the top 20 schools sent 3,511 of their graduates to work as first-year associates at NLJ 250 law firms. Total graduates among those schools in 2007 equaled 6,395. In 2006, the 20 go-to law schools sent 3,561 to NLJ 250 law firms out of 6,902 graduates.

More on this here.

I am very surprised by these stats -- particularly how Yale compares to the rest. Here is a more detailed 2005 report [PDF] indicating 12% of GMU grads went to NLJ 250 law firms. (Here's another report showing how GMU compares to other DC area schools. [PDF])

So if you're thinking about law school, what exactly does this mean?
So let’s say you’re one of those college juniors or seniors who’s known since diaperdom that you wanted to be a lawyer. Not just any lawyer, a big firm lawyer. And let’s also say you’ve got stellar grades from a top school and that you missed all of one question on the LSAT. And now you’re faced with this conundrum: Where should you go to law school? Harvard? Yale? Stanford?

Not so fast there, High Achiever. According to this report out today in the National Law Journal, your choice should be Columbia or Northwestern. Columbia Law School landed in the No. 1 spot again as the school that sent the greatest portion of graduates to NLJ 250 law firms, with nearly 75 percent of its students in 2007 taking jobs among the nation’s largest law firms. Northwestern finished in the No. 2 spot, with some 73.5 percent of its graduates accepting slots at NLJ 250 firms. Boston College Law School rounded out the list of the top 20 go-to law schools, with 36.8 percent of its 261 juris doctor grads heading for full-time jobs at NLJ 250 law firms.

The secret sauce behind Northwestern’s success? It could be that the school has also focused on enrolling students with significant postgraduate work experience, says dean David Van Zandt. And the school has worked to accept students in recent years from geographically diverse areas, with an emphasis on those from the Northeast, which has helped to boost recruiting from NLJ 250 firms, he said. Michael Schill, the UCLA law school dean, also attributed his school’s popularity among NLJ 250 firms to an increased effort to geographically diversify the student body. Said Schill: “We’re being more aggressive.”

This type of information, median starting salaries, average debt levels, and statistics of law teaching placements seem like they are much better information for prospective students to look at when selecting which law school to attend than relying on U.S. News rankings.

Here is more:

For example, between schools No. 25 (William & Mary) and No. 5 (Columbia), NLJ 250 employment rose from 21.9% to 54.5%, an increase of 32.6 percentage points. This change actually understates the employment payoffs because highly ranked schools also send a larger proportion of their graduates to federal judicial clerkships. In turn, at the end of the clerkships, large firms often pay hiring bonuses to these graduates. Conversely, between schools No. 45 (Brigham Young) and No. 25, the increase in large firm employment was only 8.4 percentage points, with fewer judicial clerkships. And between No. 65 (Louisville) and No. 45, the increase in large firm employment is a mere 4.3 percentage points.

Below school No. 26 (Emory), a graduate has a less than one in five probability of starting his or her career a large law firm. If 80% of law school applicants are convinced that they will make that 20% cutoff, three out of four are destined to be disappointed. With these numbers, does it really make economic sense to go to the highest-ranked school one can get into? In many cases, the answer is no.

The table [below] summarizes some key statistics based on the U.S. News rankings. (Note we include a Top 14 category because the same schools have occupied the Top 14, occasionally switching positions, since the first U.S. News ranking in 1987. These schools all have national cachet in the entry-level legal markets.)

As the data reveal, the vast majority of students finance their legal education through debt. Some may be surprised to learn, however, that high-rank schools, all with large endowments, are not especially generous with scholarships. In general, their graduates have the highest debt loads. Because of the ready access they provide to lucrative corporate jobs, these schools enjoy enormous market power. They can raise tuition, reduce teaching loads, poach scholars from lower-ranked schools and tweak their course offerings to please tenured faculty.

Bottom line: Unless you are at a top 14 school, weigh your financial decisions to go to law school very carefully. Your chances of getting a Big Firm job if you're not at one of these 14 schools is smaller than most might think. You're far more likely to make an annual salary of less than $60,000 than you are to get the $160,000 job.

(HT TaxProf Blog)

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