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You Can Have a Brilliant Career (Even if Paul Weiss Disses You)

The Careerist

January 14, 2013

Time again for law schools in the news:

My Beloved World1. Despair not if your summer associate job with Big Law was a disaster. Though she graduated from Princeton University summa cum laude and later served on the Yale Law Journal, U.S. Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor did not always have a smooth ride in her career. In her new memoir (My Beloved World), she makes a startling confession—the kind that most lawyers would dread to make. The New York Times reports:

After her second year at law school, Justice Sotomayor spent a summer working at a prominent New York City law firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. The vast majority of summer associates at big law firms in those days received offers for full-time jobs, but she did not. She called the experience “a kick in the teeth.”

I don't know if her experience at Paul Weiss soured her to big law firms, but Sotomayor never worked in Big Law again. After graduating from Yale in 1979, she worked as an assistant district attorney in New York under Robert Morgenthau, then joined Pavia & Harcourt, where she was eventually elected partner.

Rodriguez_Cristina2. Yale Law School finally has a tenured Hispanic faculty member. Cristina Rodriguez (at left) was named the first tenured Hispanic faculty member at that esteemed law school, reports The National Law Journal. An expert on immigration law, Rodriguez had taught at New York University School of Law before taking a leave from NYU in 2010 to become deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel.

I must be giving law schools way too much credit for diversity, because I had assumed that Yale Law already had a tenured Hispanic professor. Of course, I was also surprised that Harvard Law School didn't have a female Asian American tenured law professor until 2011, when it hired Jeannie Suk. So what do I know?

 2. The highest-paid law dean award in the land goes to: Drum roll, please. No, it's not Harvard, NYU, University of Texas, or Georgetown. According to The Boston Globe the honor for the top-earning dean belongs to John O'Brien, head of New England Law School, an institution ranked so low that "U.S. News & World ­Report does not include the downtown campus in its widely read ranking of 145 better law schools in the nation." (Hat Tip: TaxProf Blog.)

O'Brien_John horizThe Globe says that O'Brien (at right) makes "$867,000 a year in salary and benefits, includ­ing a [$650,000]  'forgivable loan' that he used to buy a Florida condominium." To put his compensation in context:

O’Brien is paid about as much as the president of Harvard University and more than three times the median salary of law school deans nationally, says a study by the College and University ­Professional Association for Human Resources. Indeed, New England Law could not name a single law school dean in the country who makes more than O’Brien.

Maybe it's a coincidence, but the article also points out that O'Brien's compensation rose dramatically when tuition was jacked up. In 2004, when tuition was $22,475 a year, O'Brien only made $369,500; in 2011, tuition rose to $40,984, and O'Brien's salary mushroomed to $867,358. During that same period of time, student acceptance rate skyrocketed and LSAT scores plunged.

So how have students weathered under O'Brien's rule? Pretty lousily—at least on the job front: According to the Globe, only 34 percent of the school’s 2011 class got jobs requiring a law degree within nine months of graduation.

Law school as a profit-making machine where some make out like bandits? Imagine that.


Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email chief blogger Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. 

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O'Brien may be overpaid, but at least he's no slouch.

Yes, he runs a law school that began over 100 years ago specifically to prepare women for the Bar, but isn't much of a legal education pioneer anymore. Well, a lot of schools - like the one that long claimed (and may still) to have graduated the most US presidents - no longer lead the statistics.

But he himself was recently chair of the ABA committee on legal education, and nobody says he doesn't do good stuff. I'd look at what he does before judging.

Love Sotomayor! Saw her interview on 60 Minutes. Inspirational story. Disgusted by the dean's salary.

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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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