September 20, 2005
Top Law Schools for Aspiring Corporate Law Associates
Posted by Victor Fleischer

Christine points to an interesting story about the hiring practices of the top 50 law firms.  As usual, I agree with most but not all she has to say.  The question is whether the list is useful as a proxy for "what will I be able to do with this degree"?  The list shows some startling underperformers (Yale, NYU, UCLA, GW, USC, Minnesota) and some overachievers (NW, Penn, Illinois).  What's going on?  Analysis below the fold.

The list:

1.  Columbia
2.  Northwestern
3.  Penn
4.  Chicago
5.  Stanford
6.  Cornell
7.  NYU
8.  Harvard
9.  UVA
10.  Duke
11.  Yale
12. Michigan
13.  Boalt
14.  Georgetown
15.  Vanderbilt
16.  Texas
17.  Illinois
18.  UCLA
19.  Notre Dame
20.  BU

The problem with the NLJ rankings is that an aspiring BigLaw associate should not care much about the percentage of JDs who end up at big firms.  Rather, she should care about the percentage of JDs who have the option of going to the big firm.  If you are a 3L right now and you have an offer from Cravath, you are happy.  If you also have a clerkship offer from Judge Reinhardt and an offer from the ACLU or IJ, you are even happier, or certainly no less happy than before.  It just depends on your preferences.  I suspect NYU, Yale and Harvard are unfairly punished here for their ability to get clerkships for their students, and Georgetown and GW unfairly punished for their students' interest in prestigious regulatory or public interest jobs. 

As for USC and UCLA, geography is important.  The LA legal market is not as heavily dominated by BigLaw, and smart graduates often end up at mid-size entertainment law firms and such.

So what is an aspiring BigLaw associate to do?  Counter-intuitively, the best proxy may be clerkships.  The percentage of graduates taking clerkships is usually a pretty good proxy for prestigious clerkships (though not always), which in turn is a pretty good proxy for the ability to get a BigLaw offer.  Better yet, it largely filters out the geography problem. 

Now --- getting a BigLaw offer is not the end of the story.  You have to know what you are doing after you get there.  And for that, the quality of the business law faculty (and things like SSRN downloads) start to become relevant again.

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Comments (12)

1. Posted by anonymous on September 20, 2005 @ 15:37 | Permalink

What about Fordham? They seem to have the most corporate lawyers in NYC.

2. Posted by Vic Fleischer on September 20, 2005 @ 15:55 | Permalink

Re: Fordham -- it's the geography problem again. If your goal is to end up at Cravath, go to Fordham and finish in the top 10% and you will be in good shape. If your goal is to go to a big firm in Chicago or LA, then Fordham may not be the best choice. The NLJ rankings are national, so that's probably why Fordham is missing.

Let's try it this way -- if your goal is to end up at Cravath and your choice is between, say, Fordham and Boalt, which should you attend? Boalt. Fordham may have more graduates going to Cravath, but unless you are very confident in your ability to finish in the top 10%, Boalt is the better choice.

(Of course, the competition may be tougher at Boalt, so for graduates who are very confident in both their ability to stand out and their desire to end up in nyc, Fordham would be a good choice. Plus, Jill Fisch teaches there, and she rocks.)

3. Posted by Christine on September 20, 2005 @ 17:12 | Permalink

I don't think we disagree: "This ranking would seem to favor schools near large urban areas, where the larger firms have offices, and disfavor schools where students are more likely to seek academic or public interest jobs, such as Yale." I think that clerkships may be figured in, as long as the clerk ultimately goes to BigLaw. The survey is on hiring practices, not placement practices, so the federal clerk-turned-first-year-associate would still be counted.

4. Posted by Kate Litvak on September 20, 2005 @ 17:34 | Permalink

Vic: you mean, nobody rocks at Boalt?

Just kidding, kidding.

5. Posted by Vic Fleischer on September 20, 2005 @ 18:24 | Permalink

Christine, I didn't mean to suggest that we disagreed about the importance of geography and clerkships. I think where we disagree is on the ultimate relevance of the NLJ rankings vs. SSRN downloads or some other statistic (e.g. clerkship stats). You think they have some relevance, I think they have little to none.

You raise a good question -- I read the article as counting only first year associates. When I started at my firm after a couple of clerkships, I was counted as a third year associate and (I believe) not counted in the NALP reporting, which I believe is the source of the NLJ rankings. But I have not investigated this.

Kate, yes, indeed, all I meant was that Jill rocks at a Boalt-level quality and a graduate who learned securities or corporate law from her would be well-served indeed. In my humble opinion. But Fried et al know a thing or two as well (I say as I re-read his book in preparation for my seminar on executive comp ...)

6. Posted by William Henderson on September 20, 2005 @ 22:28 | Permalink

The sample of the "Top 50" firms based on the NLJ 250 is not a good one for making comparisons between law schools. The NLJ 250 is based on the total number of lawyers. The Am Law 200 is based on gross revenues. Neither criteria is particularly relevant to a law school graduate with options--e.g., a Yale or Harvard grad.

Many highly prestigious and profitable law firms would not make the top 50 of the NLJ 250--e.g., Cravath and Wachtell don't make the cut.

Thus, I wouldn't take the NLJ article too seriously. A better analysis, done by student at Penn Law, can be found here: I believe it is forthcoming in Judicature.

7. Posted by Plainsman on September 21, 2005 @ 16:25 | Permalink

Agree with Prof. Henderson.

One can pick some nits with Ciolli's study, too, but his judgments and method seem to be the soundest to date, and his resulting ranking has greater "face validity" than NLJ's.

I wrote a longer comment at Prof. Hurt's post.

8. Posted by steve Diamond on September 22, 2005 @ 0:51 | Permalink

Half of Yale clerks first year out then they go to the firms.

9. Posted by Robert Schwartz on September 22, 2005 @ 12:01 | Permalink

There is something both depressing and pathetic about this. Do any of you or any of the students reading this have any idea of how bad those jobs are? If you win what have you won? If you loose, how much of your life, your treasure and your youth have you squandered? How exhausting, boring and meaningless the work is? Does nobody see the sign "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter?"

10. Posted by brandon on October 7, 2005 @ 18:12 | Permalink

Does Hofstra rank here?

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