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From the ATL Insider Survey: Overlooked Firms and Schools

Paul Cravath does not approve of this post.

Light years away and in the distant future, perhaps some alien grad student in Defunct Planet Studies will stumble onto the ATL archives. He’ll conclude, not unreasonably, that the legal industry was a sort of oligopoly. That there were only a handful of firms: Skadden, Cravath, Latham, Quinn Emanuel, Tannebaum Weiss, and those few others that get such a disproportionate amount of our attention. And of course, there were only 14 real law schools.

This singular obsession with “prestige,” this mindset that the most elite firms and schools are the only worthy ones, is detached from the experiences of the vast majority of lawyers practicing at the 50,000 other firms and the students at the 180+ other law schools. Back in December, we had a little debate about the effect of prestige in the legal industry. In the spirit of the “prestige obsession is bad” side of that argument, we thought it would be worthwhile to see which firms and schools outside of the very top tiers are, according to insiders, great places to work or learn.

Over the course of 2012, we received close to 10,000 responses to our ATL Insider Survey, where lawyers rate their firms based on compensation, culture, morale, training, and culture, and students and alumni rate their schools based on academics, social life, clinical training, career services, and financial aid advising. Based on our survey, the most highly rated firms and schools also happened to among the most prestigious (e.g., Stanford, Davis Polk), but there is certainly not a correlation between prestige and insider rating.

After the jump, we’ll see which schools outside of the T14 and which firms outside the Vault 50 were rated the highest by their own people….

Below are, in no particular order, our Top Five Overlooked Law Schools, along with a sample of insider comments:

Brooklyn Law School (U.S. News #65)

1. There is a decent clinic program 2. There is an excellent Moot Court program 3. There is an active campus life.

Way more respected in the NY market, including but not limited to Biglaw firms, than its second-tier ranking would suggest.

Worthwhile opportunities are there if you place in the top 1/3 of your class and are aggressive. BLS has a large, powerful, and devoted alumni base in the NY area.

Marquette University Law School (U.S. News #96)

The professors care a lot, the building is amazing, and the Dean is a great guy.

If you want to work at a small-medium sized firm in Milwaukee or the Fox Valley, Marquette dominates those job markets. It also does fairly well in state and local government job markets (e.g., Milwaukee DA’s office).

University of Missouri – Columbia (U.S. News #79)

Cheap in-state tuition. Great education. Very talented and accomplished faculty (even among career services staff). Fun college town to tear apart on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Because Missouri’s public university funding is consistently among the worst in the nation, USNWR won’t give a favorable $ per student ratio. We also correctly report employment statistics at graduation (a number affected by the fact that a large number of our 400 students desire to enter public service, a field that will not make an offer prior to graduation).

Tulane Law School (U.S. News #51)

If you actually work hard to get good grades and utilize the career center to the fullest extent, a law degree from Tulane will be worth your while. It’s too easy to get distracted by the constant partying that’s available to you in New Orleans. If you prioritize your work and fully commit to building a legal career for yourself, there’s plenty that Tulane can do for you.

Northeastern University School of Law (U.S. News #76)

Extremely dedicated faculty with high proportion of critical legal theorists. Lots of emphasis on job training with four required co-ops. First-year Legal Skills in Social Context program is imperfect and sometimes frustrating but very, very beneficial (in terms of ability to work well in groups, structure a project with little direction, and accept critical feedback). I love NUSL.

And here, again in no particular order, are the highest rated non-Vault 50 law firms, our Top Five Overlooked Firms:

Hughes Hubbard & Reed (Vault #77)

Hughes Hubbard’s D.C. office has managed to maintain a very intimate, “family” feel despite the fact that it has nearly tripled in size since 2005. We work the big-firm hours, but partners are extremely considerate and respectful of people’s personal lives. It is a fantastic place to work.

Steptoe & Johnson (Vault #69)
(no comments yet)

Drinker Biddle (Vault #95)

The firm is remarkably committed to training its young attorneys, something that is unparalleled in the Philadelphia market or even across the country.

Look, no one wants to get paid under market for four months, but Drinker instituting its training program instead of laying off the ’08 class was pretty powerful signaling that they care about developing young associates. As someone who intends to stay at the firm for the foreseeable future, that matters. As for the program itself, they keep us busy with work and structured events. For better or for worse, they want you to be friends with the people around you.

Troutman Sanders (unranked)

Troutman Sanders has a dynamic, well-rounded associate corps and the work/life balance here is a plus.

I feel like a human being again, as opposed to when I worked at a V20 firm

Dickstein Shapiro (Vault #81)

Collegial atmosphere, good relationships between associates and partners and within the associate ranks.

Great training and extremely strong quality of life. Growing.

Finally, if you haven’t done so already, please take a few minutes to share thoughts about your law firm or law school by taking the ATL Insider Survey.

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