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Law Schools that Feed Big Law Partnerships

The Careerist

April 24, 2016

Student-graduate-Article-201604211731Correction: The original post stated that Villanova is located in King of Prussia. The correct town is Villanova.

Here's the little secret that hiring partners seldom admit: Those who make it to partnership don't always have the most stellar resumes. You know and I know that the most motivated people often don't bear the best academic pedigrees. Yet, judging by the hires of most big law firms hire (Columbia got the top prize for feeding the highest number of associates to Big Law in 2015), you'd think that only graduates of top law schools would be allowed to breathe the air in their hallowed offices.

Now here's the reality: Some not-so-highly-ranked law schools gave top schools a run for their money in the partnership sweepstakes. Listed below are schools that produced the highest number of partners (11 or more) in the nation's 100 largest firms last year, according to our sibling publication The National Law Journal:

1.  Harvard - 34 new partners
2.  Georgetown - 32
3.  Michigan - 24
4.  UVa - 24
5.  NYU - 18
6.  Penn -17
6.  GW - 17
8.  Northwestern - 16
8.  Berkeley - 16
10. Boston College - 15
10. Fordham - 15
12. Columbia -14
12. Villanova - 14
14. Texas - 12
15. Stanford - 11
15. UCLA - 11
15. Vanderbilt - 11
15. Rutgers - 11

First, what's not a surprise: Harvard, NYU and Georgetown being top generators of partners. This make sense, because they are highly ranked schools with big graduating classes (Harvard had 590 grads, NYU 485 and Georgetown 676). Virtually all the top eight schools for new partners are T-14 schools, with the exception of GW, which ranked 22nd place in last year's U.S. News & World Report. (GW, however, has a big class—461 grads in 2015.)

Now, the more intriguing story: Schools that are outperforming their rank on the partnership front. For starters, BC and Fordham squeezed into the top 10 list for new partners. Though both are respectably, if middling, ranked (34th place in U.S. News), each produced a nice bounty of Am Law 100 partners. Fordham even has the satisfaction of beating out Columbia, its much snottier uptown neighbor. Undoubtedly, Fordham's location helps make it a local favorite.

But the two law schools that seem to be way, way over-performing are Villanova and Rutgers, which are both ranked 87. Rutger's proximity to New York probably helps. More mysterious is how little Villanova (only 215 graduates), located in a town just five miles from exciting King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, did so well. Coming in with 14 partners, Villanova seems to be punching way above its weight. (It beat out Stanford, which only scored 11 new partners; University of Chicago, Yale and Duke, 9 partners each; and Cornell, 7 partners. Side note: Villanova also won the annual March Madness men's basketball tournament earlier this month. )

What's noteworthy about the NLJ's associates to partner list is that there's a bunch of low-ranking or regional law schools that hold their own on partner elevation in the major leagues. Overachievers include 78th ranked Brooklyn Law School (nine new partners), 75th ranked Loyola in Chicago (10 partners), 75th ranked Cardozo (seven partners) and 127th ranked New York Law School (six partners).

I can only imagine that those who make partner from a school ranked below 100 or even 50 are incredibly determined—and hungry. All this goes to show that you don't need impeccable credentials to get to the top. You can go to a so-so or even cruddy school, do brilliantly, claw your way into Big Law and work like a maniac to prove your mettle.

Sounds like a plan, right?




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It is good to be ranked among the best performing law schools.

Villanova is in Villanova, PA, not King of Prussia. It is punching above its weight because it should be ranked substantially higher in the report and everyone really familiar with the school knows it.

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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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