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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