Biglaw, Job Searches, Law Schools

Biglaw Employment Prospects for Graduates of Top Law Schools: A Cornell Case Study (and a Debate)

Cornell Law School recently circulated to its students in the class of 2012 — i.e., rising 2Ls –a list of class of 2010 and 2011 members who landed jobs through the fall recruiting process. Most of these positions, not surprisingly, are at large law firms (aka “Biglaw”). The class of 2010 graduates will presumably be working for their firms in a few months (or in a year or so, if they’ve been deferred); the class of 2011 students are presumably summer associates at their firms right now.

Many law schools circulate such lists to their students. This gives rising 2Ls an opportunity to connect with graduates or fellow students and maybe learn a little bit more about law firms before fall recruiting really heats up.

The Cornell Law employment lists offer an interesting snapshot of the employment prospects for students and graduates of a top law school. The lists provide the name of the graduate or student, their law firm employer, the city they’ll be working in, and the graduate or student’s email address. We have reprinted the lists, but with names and email addresses redacted, after the jump.

Should Cornell Law students be pleased or pissed off by their school’s track record at Biglaw placement? We hear from one CLS student and then debate the question, also after the jump.

The Cornell employment lists are reprinted below, in slideshow form. Before you check them out, consider these caveats, excerpted from the career service office’s introduction to the lists (reprinted in full at the end of this post):

[P]lease note that this list includes only students working at law firms that either (1) participate in our Fall Recruiting events; or (2) may hire students as a result of independent outreach at this time of year. We also have students working for other types of employers (including small firms, government, public sector, and corporations) who would likely be happy to share their experiences with you. Should you wish to be connected with students working for employers who hire through means other than Fall Recruiting, please speak to a counselor.

We took the lists and counted up all the class of 2010 graduates and class of 2011 students appearing on them, who roughly represent the number of people who obtained permanent or summer jobs in Biglaw (one can quibble at the margins about whether particular employers constitute “Biglaw”; we don’t get into this). We came up with these numbers (but feel free to email us with corrections if our count is off):

  • Class of 2010: 123 members

  • Class of 2011: 86 members

Cornell has around 600 enrolled students, about 200 per class year. You crunch these numbers and you see that the class of 2010 came in at just over 60% (subject to deferrals, or course), and the class of 2011 is around 40%.

What about the fact that the list only represents students who “volunteered” to be contacted? Do the employment prospects for Cornell grads look better if we include people who got Biglaw jobs but were unwilling to be contacted? One tipster doesn’t think so:

I looked through the list for folks missing. I found two. The unofficial word from Career Services — spoken only to those who asked directly — was that approximately 40% of the class of 2011 got BigLaw.

UPDATE: We’ve heard from some sources who claim that the number of “missing” people — i.e., people who got Biglaw jobs but did not wish to be contacted — is significantly higher than what is reflected on the lists. For the class of 2011, one tipster claims the number of “missing” students is at least eight.

What does this all mean for Cornell rising 3Ls? A current Cornell student, in the class of 2011, opines:

I consider the Class of 2011 numbers as rough precursors to what the “employed at graduation” numbers will be. I know of (maybe) a dozen folks who are planning on government or non-profit work of some kind. If everyone at BigLaw right now is lucky enough to get offers, that would put us at about 45-50% employment.

For the rest of us, the advice coming out of Career Services has been “network” and “send your resumes to small firms.” A ten-year-old could give that advice. Will the Cornell Law Class of 2011 have 50% employment at graduation? No, we’ll be a lot better than that. Even I’m not so pessimistic. But will that other 50% have a job that justifies the cost of a Cornell law education? F**k no.

The unhappy Cornellian adds:

Career Services, of course, did not share this list with the Class of 2011, but only with the Class of 2012. They don’t want us rising 3Ls to know just how shitty a job they did.

Let it be a word of wisdom to the idiots who would still come to law school ITE: yes, it really did get that fucking bad that fucking quickly.

Hold on a sec. Are things really this grim — or this simple? Two of your editors debate.


I can understand why this Cornell tipster, who signed his / her email as “Disgruntled Rising Cornell 3L,” is upset. As we’ve said over and over again in these pages, law school is expensive, and well-paying legal jobs can be tough to find these days.

But let’s be realistic here. There is no way that Cornell’s “employed upon graduation” statistic is going to be as low as 40 or 50 percent. It can’t be — if for no reason other than the need of these graduates to eat (and pay their law school loans). Some Cornell students who wanted lucrative jobs at large law firms won’t get them. They will, out of necessity, find some other form of employment.

“Employed upon graduation” does not equal “Employed by Biglaw upon graduation.” There are so many options for law-related employment outside of Biglaw — midsize or small law firms, federal government (e.g., the DOJ Honors Program), state government, clerkships (federal and state), fellowships, non-profits / public interest, and in-house (yes, even for new graduates). And that’s without even touching upon the many career alternatives for attorneys — all the things you can do with a law degree that don’t involve practicing law.

Law school graduates shut out of Biglaw might be unhappy at first, especially since these jobs are often the best way to pay off educational debt in the shortest amount of time. But, over time, they might actually end up happy that they didn’t wind up at large law firms. Quite frankly, many of these non-Biglaw options will be a better fit for many people. As we’ve chronicled in these pages, Biglaw — with its long hours, high stress, sometimes nasty colleagues, and sometimes difficult clients — isn’t for everyone. Some of the happiest lawyers out there are those who have never stepped foot inside an Am Law or Vault 100 law firm (at least as employees). (Will Meyerhofer has some thoughts on how to be a happy lawyer.)

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’re a Cornell grad who was dead-set on Biglaw. Do you have cause for complaint?

Not really. Cornell has previously sent roughly 40 percent of its graduates into Biglaw — and this fact was easily ascertainable by anyone who did sufficient research (which, sadly, many people don’t do before going to law school — but that’s a rant for another day). Look back at the statistics gathered by the National Law Journal when it compiled its “Go-To Schools” list, based on employment data for the class of 2009. The NLJ ranked schools based on the percentage of graduates the school placed in the NLJ 250, the nation’s 250 largest law firms. Cornell came in at #14, with a 41.5% Biglaw placement rate (78 out of 188 grads at NLJ 250 firms). If Cornell once again ends up with a Biglaw placement of around 40 percent for the class of 2011, despite a terrible legal job market, the school deserves to be commended rather than condemned.

Not every graduate of a good law school can — or should — get a job in Biglaw. A line has to be drawn somewhere. And, to my mind, drawing the line at roughly the top 40 percent at Cornell Law School — emphasis on “roughly,” since many top CLS graduates will want to do something other than toil away at a large law firm — seems perfectly reasonable.


Tuition, room and board, and other fees at Cornell Law School for ’10/’11: $69,750. Number of Cornell rising 3Ls with summer associate positions: 86. Something is terribly, terribly wrong with that math.

It’s a point that I make around here so much that it borders on repetitive. But I keep saying it because prospective law students don’t seem to be getting the message. Cornell had a record number of applicants to its law school this year. A record! For the love of God: $69,750/year, 86 Biglaw summer associate positions.

Of course Biglaw isn’t the be all and end all of a law school education. I’d be the last person to argue that: government work is interesting and often noble, lifestyle firms allow you to have a life, I’ve staked my entire career on finding non-legal uses for a J.D. I know a little something about the wonderful opportunities that await those willing to eschew the big bucks of Biglaw.

The problem, which should be obvious by now, is that a school like Cornell will cost approximately sixty nine THOUSAND, seven hundred and fifty American dollars per year. Do you know what you can do in this country with $70K burning a hole in your pocket? Do you know what you can do in this country with $210K over three years? It’s a pyramid scheme. Every single person has to pay the same cost of entry, fewer than half of them will even have an opportunity to get financial value in the bargain — and Lat just explained that for most of those people, the big money job will be the worst one they’ve ever had.

The Biglaw job isn’t what people are entitled to; it isn’t even what most people want. It is simply what the majority of these students (and their creditors) need in order to manage the debt load.

Now, is any of this Cornell’s fault? Not really. Cornell is just taking advantage of informational asymmetry to help its business. It’s not Cornell’s fault that prospective law students can’t use a calculator. The only way any of this will change is if prospective law students think rationally before they matriculate.

So, I’ll keep saying it: $69,750/year, 86 2L summer associate positions. Do the math, lemmings. Do the math.

Earlier: Best Law Schools for Getting a Biglaw Job
NALP 2010: NALP Executive Director James Leipold Talks to the ‘Lost Generation’
Is Cornell the Lady Gaga of Law Schools?
Michigan Law Tells Its 3Ls They’re Screwed; Offers Counseling


As you research employers participating in our Fall Recruiting events, you are likely finding that many of the firms are quite similar on paper, and thus that it is difficult to draw meaningful distinctions among them. For that reason, it is often helpful to talk to fellow Cornell students who have been, or currently are, summer associates at firms of interest to you, and who may be able to share valuable perspectives on their employers.

Many of the students in the classes of 2010 and 2011 have generously offered to serve as mentors to you, and invite you to contact them via email to ask any questions you might have about the firms where they work. Attached please find a list of those student mentors, along with their employment information and email addresses.

We encourage you to contact students on the list but, in doing so, please keep in mind these important points:

Student mentors’ employment and contact information should be considered confidential.

Student mentors are busy!

Student mentors are NOT in a position to evaluate your chances of getting hired by the firm, or to “put in a good word for you” with the firm. Please do not make any such requests and, additionally, please be sensitive to the fact that many of our recent grads are themselves facing deferral periods before beginning work at the firm, due to economic issues.

Finally, please note that this list includes only students working at law firms that either (1) participate in our Fall Recruiting events; or (2) may hire students as a result of independent outreach at this time of year. We also have students working for other types of employers (including small firms, government, public sector, and corporations) who would likely be happy to share their experiences with you. Should you wish to be connected with students working for employers who hire through means other than Fall Recruiting, please speak to a counselor.

(hidden for your protection)

comments sponsored by

Show all comments