The general economy started to turn around last year, but the legal job market remains sluggish. In 2011, many top law schools sent fewer graduates into first-year associate jobs at the nation’s largest 250 law firms than they did in 2010. That’s the bottom-line finding of the National Law Journal’s annual survey of which schools the NLJ 250 firms relied on most heavily when filling first-year associate classes.
The results of the survey should be interesting to current law students and law firm attorneys. And they’re of possible practical import to prospective law students who are now choosing between law schools (or deciding whether to go to law school at all, based on a cost-benefit analysis that pits tuition and student loans against post-graduate job prospects).
So let’s look at the top 10 law schools, ranked by the percentage of their 2011 juris doctor graduates who landed jobs at NLJ 250 firms (i.e., “Biglaw”)….
Here’s the top 10 list (click to enlarge):
Congratulations to U. Penn., which climbs from its #4 ranking last year to dethrone U. Chicago at the top of the list. Northwestern, this year’s runner-up, moves up dramatically from its #8 spot on the 2011 list. Columbia holds steady at #3, and Harvard edges up a spot from #5 to #4.
You can check out the complete rankings, which include the top 50 law schools, at the National Law Journal. You can also see the top 25 schools and their respective U.S. News rankings over at TaxProf Blog.
Some might wonder why Yale isn’t in the top 10 (it’s #15), or why Harvard and Stanford are lower than Penn and Northwestern. We reiterate our comment from last year:
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.
What do the statistics say about the overall health of the legal job market? They’re not rosy, as noted by reporter Karen Sloan:
Most law schools sent smaller percentages of their 2011 classes into first-year associate jobs at the nation’s largest 250 law firms than they did in 2010. Among the 50 schools most popular with hiring firms, 22 percent of 2011 graduates landed associate jobs — down from 27 percent in 2010.
Meanwhile, as job prospects decline, tuition continues to increase. From the NLJ:
The 2010-11 academic year represented a milestone of sorts for law schools: Annual tuition at seven schools topped $50,000.
With no end in sight to tuition increases, The National Law Journal looked at which schools offer the biggest bang for their tuition buck when it comes to landing a job at a large law firm. We identified the schools sending the highest percentage of their class of 2011 to associate jobs at NLJ 250 firms for the lowest tuition price.
The best value this year goes to the University of Pennsylvania Law School, which sent a higher percentage of its most recent graduating class to NLJ 250 firms — 57 percent — than any other school. At $48,362, Pennsylvania’s annual tuition is the 10th highest, meaning that nine other schools charged more but had lower placement rates at the country’s largest law firms. Stanford Law School, Harvard Law School, and Northwestern University School of Law also landed near the top of the list in the cost-benefit analysis.
Considering that the top schools don’t charge wildly different tuition, it’s not surprising that the top Biglaw feeder schools are also, for the most part, the “best value schools.”
Speaking of cost-benefit analysis, here’s what Professor Paul Campos has to say about these rankings, over at Inside the Law School Scam:
This kind of survey is nearly meaningless to law students at the 85% of ABA-accredited law schools which place less than 10% of their grads in big law. In other words, this data is significant at the top end of legal academia, since it determines the extent to which it makes sense to borrow $150,000 (that will be the approximate amount of average educational debt carried by the current 1L class by the time it graduates) to go to a particular school within the top 30. Outside that range it obviously doesn’t make sense to borrow anything like that sort of money, despite the fact that tens of thousands of law students continue to do so every year. Within that range, these numbers reveal that the number of schools at which this level of indebtedness constitutes a reasonable gamble continues to shrink.
That’s depressing — but it’s information that people thinking about law school should be aware of and carefully consider.
The NLJ survey unearthed additional interesting information. For example, which specific schools did individual NLJ 250 firms rely upon most heavily to fill their entering associate classes — i.e., “Firm Favorites”? And which law schools saw the most alumni promoted to partner in 2011?