September 20, 2005
More on Law School Rankings -- as Producers of BigLaw Associates
Posted by Christine Hurt

The National Law Journal has just released a new ranking of law schools based on hiring practices at the top 50 law firms in the U.S.  The names in the top 20 are almost the same as the USNWR top 20, but in a different order.  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 this ranking is useful to us at Conglomerate because if I were applying to law schools and knew that I wanted to do sophisticated corporate legal work at a top law firm, this statistic would be more important to me than ssrn download stats of my professors.  Those circles may overlap either completely or somewhat, but if we are going to use a statistic as a proxy, then this statistic is a good proxy for "what will I be able to do with this degree"?  More specifically, the question "what will I be able to do in corporate law with this degree" is answerable here because the top 50 law firms have large and busy corporate law departments.

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Comments (12)

1. Posted by Kate Litvak on September 20, 2005 @ 14:47 | Permalink

If the driving force behind the reshuffling of the top-20 rankings is student self-selection, then, this ranking won’t help a corporate-bound student select the right school.

Here is why. I suspect the reason Yale doesn’t have impressive corporate placement stats is not because corporate firms won’t hire Yale grads, but because Yale grads don’t want to work for corporate firms. So, these placement stats contain no information on whether a Yale diploma itself creates a disadvantage for a corporate-bound student and therefore on whether a corporate-interested student should pick Columbia over Yale. A Yale diploma might be a disadvantage (if the way to get a top job is through alumni network) or it might be an advantage (if law firms just love to have at least some Yalies, so a rare corporate Yalie will be valued more highly than an otherwise similar Columbian; or if a Yale diploma itself helps to get fancy clerkships, which in turn help to get fancy corporate jobs). These data just don’t contain the answer.

2. Posted by Scott Moss on September 20, 2005 @ 15:04 | Permalink

Also, the differences among the schools are so small -- a bunch clustered in the 30+ percent range, just a few points apart -- that the self-selection explanation is especially plausible. For example, Columbia is 1st with 38%, while NYU is 7th with 31% -- but NYU has a well-known public interest focus, and the difference among schools in percent entering public interest jobs can be much more than 7% (according to older numbers I remember seeing in the 90s).

3. Posted by Mike Madison on September 20, 2005 @ 16:50 | Permalink

As a follow-up to Kate's comment -- "I suspect the reason Yale doesn’t have impressive corporate placement stats is not because corporate firms won’t hire Yale grads, but because Yale grads don’t want to work for corporate firms." -- these two phenomena may not be independent. Unfortunately, I have only anecdote to support this suspicion. When I was an associate at a corporate law firm in San Francisco in the late 1980s, the firm affirmatively decided not to hire Yale law grads -- because the firm perceived that Yalies were not serious about practicing corporate law. Unlike Vic, I'm not sure that Yale (for example) is punished unfairly here.

4. Posted by Christine on September 20, 2005 @ 17:06 | Permalink

As I mentioned above, schools that send a lot of grads to hard-to-get public interest jobs, clerkships, and government posts may be disadvantaged in the poll. I would suggest a matrix with this data, Skadden Fellowships, federal clerkships, and some of the federal "honors program" type posts might be more helpful to get the overall sense of a school. But, like Mike says, to some extent, law firms look to the kind of corporate law education you received in law school, and if a law school has a non-corporate law bias, it may not offer the right mix of courses. As more and more new associates are expected to hit the ground running, more training in sophisticated engineering of transactions may be necessary.

5. Posted by Kate Litvak on September 20, 2005 @ 17:30 | Permalink

Mike: on the reputation of Yalies -- there might be the opposite effect too. If most Yalies aren't serious about corporate work, it only means that the ones who end up choosing corporate firms are the rare exceptions. Not only are *they" serious about corporate work, but they have remained serious despite strong peer pressure to the opposite -- and despite a variety of other attractive options open mostly to Yale-Harvard-Stanford grads.

Christine: I've heard complaints that Yale graduates know nothing about the law, but, judging by Yale's business law faculty, I would think this critique can't apply to corporate grads. The Yale folks neither write nor teach Inter-Subjective Deconstruction of Stakeholder Rights. They do real hard-core business law.

6. Posted by Dave! on September 20, 2005 @ 21:55 | Permalink

"I would suggest a matrix with this data..."

That would be a different ranking. A useful one, certainly, but not the same at all--and just as useless to some people.

A ranking system with no bias is a bit of a pipe dream, isn't it? So why not have rankings which are completely up-front about their bias? This would allow the person looking for a ranking system that best fits their personal preferences/goals to have some useful comparison.

7. Posted by William Henderson on September 20, 2005 @ 22:20 | 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.

In our recent article on the market for high LSAT students (see SSRN if you are interested), Andy Morriss and I collected data on on-campus interview activity by all Am Law 200 firms. It was remarkable how much OCI activity was driven by geography at the expense of US News rank. Second and Third tier schools in big markets routinely got more visits from Big Law firms than higher ranked schools in remote locations. Of course, the interview cutoffs may be adjusted for the lower ranked schools, but at least the firms are showing up.

8. Posted by Plainsman on September 21, 2005 @ 14:25 | Permalink

Mr. Henderson is right. I don't think the NLJ ranking of law schools is especially useful even on its own terms, because the underlying data set, the "NLJ Top 50 firms," is simply a ranking of law firms by number of lawyers.

All the rankings-mania and credential snobbery in law makes a lot of people itch, and fair enough. But if we are going to do it, we should do it right. It would be much more helpful to students to compile a ranking of law schools by placement at, say, Vault's Top 50 law firms, which are ranked by prestige, not raw number of lawyers.

Heaven knows prestige is a problematic concept of its own, but it is at least an attempted measure of quality -- as is revenues per lawyer, which would also be a much better basis than NLJ's list. Presumably what students care about is working for top firms (many of which are big), not working at big firms for bigness's sake.

Vault's list overlaps with NLJ's, but there are major differences. In my experience, Vault's Top 50 is quite a bit more representative of the desirability (and selectivity) of law firms among students at highly ranked law schools.

Sought-after firms that are not even included in NLJ's Top 50 include all of the conventional "top 3" DC firms (Williams & Connolly, Covington & Burling, Wilmer Cutler). In NYC, neither Cravath (!) nor Wachtell (!), is represented. Nor is traditional #1 Boston firm Ropes & Gray. In LA, Irell & Manella and Munger Tolles & Olsen are missing. Etc., etc.

For what it's worth, there are scads of Yale/Harvard/Stanford grads at all of these firms, who therefore are not at the "NLJ Top 50" firms, which fact we may see reflected in the NLJ school rankings.

9. Posted by Plainsman on September 21, 2005 @ 16:08 | Permalink

Or rather, Prof. Henderson.

10. Posted by William Henderson on September 21, 2005 @ 21:27 | Permalink

Plainsman adds some good observations. Re Vault, I was surprised to find that their prestige rankings are the result of surveys to ~9,000 Big Law lawyers, which are distributed electronically by the firms themselves (who no doubt like making the list). So these numbers are no joke. They reflect market perceptions.

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