Biglaw, Job Searches, Law Schools, Partner Issues

Are Graduates of Elite Law Schools ‘Too Good’ for Biglaw?

'Find someone else to draft your asset purchase agreement. I'm too busy smoking this pipe.'

That’s the provocative question bouncing around the legal blogosphere these days. It was raised last week by Vivia Chen of the Careerist, then picked up by Professor William Henderson on the Legal Whiteboard, and now it’s the top story on the ABA Journal.

There’s actually some data driving this discussion. According to Chen, citing research by Professor Henderson, graduates of Loyola University Chicago School of Law are six times more likely to make partner at a major law firm than graduates of the higher-ranked University of Chicago Law School, located just a few miles to the south. It seems that even though Chicago Law grads may have an easier time breaking into Biglaw than their Loyola – Chicago counterparts, the Loyola folks who do make it in the door tend to have longer-lasting law firm careers.

Let’s not pick on U. Chicago. There are other elite law schools with even higher Biglaw “washout” rates….

Via Vivia, here are the stats on Loyola versus Chicago, based on data from the National Law Journal:

Henderson finds that the ratio of first-year hires to new partners was 0.85 for Loyola (it had 11 first-year associates and 13 new partners in the NLJ 250 firms this year), and 5.12 for Chicago (87 first-year associates and 17 new partners). According to this calculation, every Loyola grad hired by Big Law will make partner, while only one out of five University of Chicago grad will reach that pinnacle.

And here are how other top schools fare when it comes to minting partners:

Think Chicago’s partnership stats are bad? They’re actually far better than those from Stanford Law School, where the new-hire-to-new-partner ratio for grads is 10.5! Here are the ratios for some of the top law schools, according to Henderson:

Yale 6.0
Harvard 4.49
Stanford 10.5
Columbia 7.11
NYU 6.43
Penn 8.13
Boalt 8.38

So which schools have a good ratio of hires to partners in Big Law? Well, more “local” schools like University of Houston (1.0 ratio); University of Illinois (1.54 ratio); University of Minnesota (2.0 ratio) — although schools with national reputations like University of Texas (1.84 ratio) and Vanderbilt (1.76) are also in the mix.

Over at the Legal Whiteboard, Bill Henderson floats a few theories to explain why elite law schools don’t have higher associate-hired-to-partner-promoted ratios. Check them out here. I haven’t done any empirical research here, but my gut instinct is that this phenomenon is driven by a complex set of factors, with Henderson’s first, third, and fifth theories — “Selection Effects,” “Inter-Generational Privilege,” and “A Better Plan B” — doing most of the work here. Readers, what do you think?

P.S. By the way, speaking as someone who spent a few years at a large law firm before leaving, I used to hate the term “Biglaw washout,” which I viewed as an insult. But now I’m fine with it — because, well, there’s some truth to it. I like to think (perhaps I’m flattering myself) that I have enough raw intelligence to make partner at some firm, somewhere. But I know myself well enough today to recognize that I lack the sheer stamina — mental, physical, and emotional — required to make (and remain) partner at a major firm.

(When you’re young, you like to think that you excel in all departments: “I’m smart! And I’m tough! And I’m hardworking!” When you’re old, like me, you realize that you’re good at some things and not good at others — and you make your peace with these realities.)

“Too Good for BigLaw”: The Statistician Edition [Legal Whiteboard]
Too Good for Big Law [The Careerist]
Do Elite Law Grads Disdain Longtime BigLaw Work? Stats Suggest Lower-Tier ‘Strivers’ Stick Around
[ABA Journal]

Earlier: The Lament of a Thirty-Something

(hidden for your protection)

comments sponsored by

Show all comments