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Best Law Schools for Prestige and Jobs

The Careerist

March 22, 2016

Careerist-Coed-Article-201603171352Are the most highly ranked law schools the best ones for getting a job in Big Law? Well, duh!

Actually, the correlation isn't quite so direct. Sure, most law firms wouldn't turn away Yale, Harvard or Stanford law students knocking at their doors. But here's the deal: You don't have to go to the tippy top law schools to get a job that pays big bucks. Truth is, the most elite schools are not always the biggest feeders of Big Law.

Two lists just came out recently: National Law Journal's go-to law schools for 100 largest firms and U.S. News & World Report's 2017 law school rankings. Let's see where the two lists meet.

First, let's consider U.S. News's rankings. The most predictable news is that the top six or seven slots are monopolized by the same law schools year after year. But the further down you go in ranking, the more interesting and volatile things get. It's almost like watching a greyhound race to see which schools make the various cuts—top 10, top 20, top 50 or top 100.

Anyway, here are the top 20 schools, according to U.S. News:

1 Yale
2 Stanford
2 Harvard
4 Columbia
4 Chicago
7 Penn
8 Berkeley
8 Michigan (+3)
8 UVa
11 Duke (-3)
12 Northwestern
13 Cornell
14 Georgetown
15 Texas
16 Vanderbilt (+1)
17 UCLA (-1)
18 Washington University in St. Louis
19 USC (+1)
20 Boston University (+6)

The notable interloper here is BU, which somehow managed to pull itself out of its 26th place last year and squeeze itself onto this coveted list. (For the ups and downs of various schools, check out stories by Karen Sloan of NLJ and Staci Zaretsky and Elie Mystal of Above the Law.)

Now, let's look at the schools that sent 25 percent of its graduates to the largest 100 firms in the nation, according to the NLJ:

Columbia               52.26%

Penn                       52.23

Chicago                  52.04

Northwestern          47.02

Duke                       46.19

NYU                        44.54

Cornell                    41.34

UVA                        40.87

Stanford                  40.72

Berkeley                  38.13

Harvard                   37.29

Michigan                 29.94

Georgetown            28.11

UCLA                      27.76

USC                        25.23

Boston U                 25.00

What's obvious is that going to a top 20 school is the most reliable ticket to a big firm job. And once again, Columbia wins the prize for getting the highest percentage of grads into Big Law. (Sending just over 52 percent to those jobs seemed low to me at first, but remember this is only for AmLaw 100 firms.)

Now, did you notice something funny about the go-to law school list? The numero uno law school, Yale, didn't make the job cut-off (only 23.58 percent of Yale's grads took big firm jobs), while the much more pedestrian BU did. What gives?

Chances are many graduates of uber-intellectual Yale Law have more esoteric interests to pursue, like jobs in academia, think tanks or policy making. What's more, schools like Yale, Harvard and Stanford have a much higher percentage who take federal clerkships—which the NLJ doesn't take into account.

Which brings me back to my original point. For those of you with more earthly goals: You don't have to go the top of the top law schools and pretend you want to spend your life debating obscure points about constitutional law. There are plenty of good schools where you don't have to be embarrassed that you're just in it for the dough.

 Vivia Chen      vchen@alm.com


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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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