Why is he smiling? He landed a job at a top law firm.

If your goal in life, or at least your near-term career objective, is to land a job at a large law firm, which law schools would best suit your needs? When it comes to minting Biglaw associates and partners, not all law schools are created equal.

The National Law Journal has just come out with its annual survey of which schools the NLJ 250 law firms relied on most heavily when filling their first-year associate classes. The results are interesting — and also a little depressing.

We’ll start with the depressing part: hiring of top law school graduates continued to decline. As noted by Leigh Jones of the NLJ, “Hiring of graduates of the top law schools by the nation’s largest law firms slid by 10% during 2010 compared with 2009…. In 2010, the top 50 schools sent 3,822, or 27.3%, of their juris doctor graduates to NLJ 250 firms, compared with 30.3% of their 2009 graduating classes. The top 50 schools produced 13,989 graduates during 2010.”

Let’s look at the top 10 law schools, ranked by the percentage of their 2010 graduates who landed jobs at NLJ 250 firms (i.e., “Biglaw”)….

Here’s the top 10 list:

You can check out the complete listing, which includes the top 50 law schools, at the National Law Journal.

Congratulations to the University of Chicago Law School for topping the list, with almost 60 percent of its 2010 graduates heading off to big law firms. Could Chicago’s rigorous grading system be a plus for its students in a still-tough job market (as we previously suggested)?

Second place goes to Cornell Law School (up from #14 last year). Last July, Elie and I had a debate about Biglaw employment prospects at Cornell, but there’s no argument here: if your goal is to get a large law-firm job, CLS is a great place to go. As pointed out by the NLJ, Cornell “sent 58.3% of its 192 graduates in 2010 to NLJ 250 firms, compared with 41.5% of the 2009 class.”

There’s one big caveat to this list: judicial clerkships. Many top law schools, such as Yale and Harvard, send sizable numbers of their graduates straight into clerkships. These clerks often wind up at NLJ 250 firms after their clerkships, but they aren’t counted as hits for purposes of this list. So the schools that top this list are often those that land in the “sweet spot” between (1) having enough juice to get their grads Biglaw jobs and (2) not having too many grads go off and clerk. In other words, think of it as a list of law schools that excel at sending their graduates straight into Biglaw, without detour. (The NLJ asked law schools for their clerkship stats, but several of them, including Harvard, NYU, and Yale, declined to provide the information.)

The NLJ also has a list of “firm favorites,” listing the law schools that specific firms recruited most heavily from. Some highlights:

Cleary Gottlieb: Harvard (18 first-years)
Dewey & LeBoeuf: Columbia, Harvard, NYU (12 first-years each)
Gibson Dunn: Columbia (20 first-years)
Kirkland & Ellis: Northwestern (16 first-years)
Skadden: Harvard (19 first-years)

Even though the legal job market hasn’t completely thawed, it’s nice to see this kind of success. Despite all the threats to the entry-level associate position, from outsourcing, technology, and other developments, these jobs are still out there. And smart, hardworking graduates, hailing from the nation’s top law schools, are still landing them.

For more statistics and analysis on top law school placement rates at the major law firms, check out the links to the NLJ that are collected below.

Top law schools placed fewer graduates at top firms in 2010 [National Law Journal]
Law Schools Report [National Law Journal]
Go-To Law Schools [National Law Journal]
Firm Favorites in 2010 [National Law Journal]

Earlier: Biglaw Employment Prospects at Top Law Schools: A Cornell Case Study
Law School Grading Controversies: Open Thread
Best Law Schools for Getting a Biglaw Job (2010)


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