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The No-Go List—Law Schools and Pennsylvania's Female Problem

Vivia Chen

December 17, 2012

©-Klaus-Peter-Adler---Fotolia.comWhat's hot—and not—in the world of law schools and work locations.

Schools with crummy bar exam results: Now, there is yet another reason not to blow your [parent's] money on going to a low-ranked, yet expensive law school: Some of those schools seem to be having a hard time getting their graduates to even pass the bar. 

New York Law Journal reports that of New York state's 15 law schools, the honor for the worst performance by first-time bar candidates goes to New York Law School, which, "experienced the most precipitous plunge this year, down 10 percentage points from 2011."

New York Law School already has some angry (and unemployed) alums on its hands. (You'll recall that NYLS was sued by alums who claimed that the school lied about its employment statistics.)

Though NYLS won the loser prize for bar passage this year, it has plenty of company too. Amazingly, nine schools fell below the average (85 percent) pass rate. Here are the bottom five schools:

New York Law School—70 percent pass rate

Touro—74 percent

Pace—78 percent

Syracuse—80 percent

Albany—81.5 percent

The schools with passage rates well above average—over 90 percent—happen also to have much higher rankings:

Columbia—96 percent

NYU—95 percent

Cornell—92 percent

Fordham—91 percent

I don't know why the top law schools should have much higher passage rates. Are they preparing students better or are the students just absorbing the material more efficiently? In any case, it's probably irrelevant that graduates of low-ranking schools can't pass the bar, since they're not getting law jobs anyway.

You might want to skip Pennsylvania. I have nothing against Pennsylvania. After all, it's home to Fallingwater, buccolic Bucks County, and the Liberty Bell. That said, I don't know if I'd recommend it to new lawyers—particularly women.

In a nutshell, women there seem to be struggling. According to the Legal Intelligencer, there are only 9.9 percent female partners (equity and nonequity) in that state—which obviously is way below the national female partner figures: On average, women represent almost 19 percent overall, and 15 percent  equity. And since the Pennsylvania female partner figure is not broken down between equity and nonequity partners, "the number of female equity partners as a percentage of the overall lawyer head count is almost certainly less than 9.9 percent." In other words, the stats for women in that state sucks.

You have to wonder if Pennsylvania has a woman problem. Just recently, a former female partner filed a $200 million class action lawsuit against Greenberg Traurig for gender discrimination. Then, there was the gender discrimination lawsuit against Reed Smith by JoEllen Lyons Dillon, a nonequity partner at the firm's Pittsburgh office; and the gender bias suit against Dickie McCamey & Chilcote by former partner Alyson Kirleis.

For whatever it's worth, men in the state aren't really happy either. According to the recent survey of partners by Major, Lindsey & Africa, Philadelphia got the lowest "Very Satisfied" rating (16 percent) and the lowest average compensation ($478,000) of all cities. Moreover, Philly has one of the highest rates of partners who describe themselves as either "Not at All Satisfied" or "Not Very Satisfied" (28 percent).

North Dakota is hot! Really. I know no one goes there unless there's a family connection, but North Dakota needs lawyers desperately. Oil exploration, rising foreign oil prices, and advances in hydraulic fracturing technology have made North Dakota a booming state, says The National Law Journal.

Not only has an influx of oil patch workers increased the need for basic legal services, but attorneys who used to provide family law, indigent defense, and legal aid services have abandoned those practices for oil and gas work, says William Neumann, a former justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court who now is the executive director of the State Bar Association of North Dakota. "This is almost the only place in the U.S. where we're begging for lawyers," he says.

Did you hear that? North Dakota is begging for lawyers! So if you need a job, get over it and head to Fargo. Besides, it couldn't be worse than Philly or Pittsburgh, right?


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"[You] don't know why the top law schools should have much higher passage rates." I think it is simple: students at the higher ranked schools have, on average (there are exceptions), better test taking abilities, writing skills and perhaps concomitant intelligence before they get to law school.

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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: [email protected]

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