Ronan Farrow: a former Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree turned contest judge.

Since 2012, the list-loving folks at Forbes have been publishing “30 Under 30″ compilations for various fields of endeavor. The 2014 lists just came out, and they include, of course, a 30 Under 30 for law and public policy. We noted the news in yesterday’s Non-Sequiturs.

Such lists generate great traffic, but they also exhibit a somewhat arbitrary character that can be criticized, even mocked. The New Yorker, for example, took inspiration from Forbes to create 3 Under 3: Entrepreneurs, Intellectuals, Toddlers.

A list of notable legal eagles under 30 presents additional problems. Unlike, say, sports or the arts, where people over 30 might already be “over the hill,” law doesn’t lend itself to super-young prodigies. As Miguel Morales of Forbes points out in introducing the list, “It’s never easy for FORBES staffers to sniff out the 30 best and brightest Millennials making an impact on their fields. In law and public policy, where most people are barely out of law school by 30, let alone blazing trails in their fields, the task sometimes felt farcical.”

Whether it’s farcical or not, we know you want to see the list. Let’s have a peek, shall we?

You’re lawyers, so you want to know about the methodology. Morales explains:

With my colleague Daniel Fisher, I sussed out this year’s final 30 from a roster of more than 200 candidates, after interviewing dozens of legal experts, Hill officials, think tankers, academics, and law school and grad school admissions offices. By no means exhaustive, this year’s 30 Under 30 is the result of our efforts to leave no stone unturned while balancing the list with representatives from the private and public sector, big law and nonprofit work, entrepreneur-rich Silicon Valley and traditional academia.

We had help of course, enlisting three judges immersed in the worlds of law and policy: William Eskridge, John A. Garver Professor Jurisprudence at Yale Law School and a widely cited expert on statutory interpretation and con law; Greta Van Susteren, head of the long-running primetime news and interview program On the Record with Greta Van Susteren and former trial attorney; and Ronan Farrow, who will soon host his own MSNBC show, making him the youngest host on the network.

Farrow — a Yale Law School graduate, Rhodes Scholar, and son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen (or maybe Frank Sinatra?) — is a 30 Under 30 alumnus himself.

If you’ve seen the prior two 30 Under 30 lists, you’ll notice something different about this year’s installment. The latest list is more focused on policy than law, and more tilted towards activists than the Establishment (perhaps in response to the difficulty of trying to distinguish between lots of super-smart lawyers who are still just starting out in their careers). Here’s the clearest example of that:

[N]one of the Supreme Court clerks nominated are featured among our 30. For one, the overall crop of candidates was superior to last year’s, raising the bar for entry even higher. Chalk up another reason to the difficult but not necessarily groundbreaking steps it takes to become a clerk for the highest bench in the country: top law school, big law or government internships, top of class, SCOTUS clerkship. This isn’t to belittle the accomplishments of the exclusive few who do clerk for the nine, but we felt strongly that there were other stories worth highlighting….

This approach is certainly understandable. If you wanted to name 30 outstanding young lawyers based primarily on conventional credentials, you could fill the entire list from the ranks of recent, current, and future SCOTUS clerks. (Speaking of SCOTUS clerks, we’re about to do another hiring update, so send us your tips — by email, subject line “SCOTUS Clerk Hiring.”)

Now, on to the list. In the spirit of Forbes’s pageview lust, please flip to the next page….


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