Please see page 3 of the pdf format of the article for the results.
may find some of these numbers surprising. Over the past 25 years,
Chicago has graduated far more students who have gone on to become and
remain NLJ 100 partners than Yale or Stanford, despite the fact that the
three are of comparable size. Georgetown, less than 30 percent larger
than Texas (with which it is ranked equally by U.S. News), has produced
almost twice as many NLJ 100 partners as the latter. Indeed, Georgetown
has achieved the second largest big-firm footprint of any law school in
the country, second only to Harvard. St. John’s, a school only slightly
larger than the U.S. average, outperforms its U.S. News ranking by an
astonishing 53 places, Miami by 51 places, Villanova by 49, DePaul by
47, Catholic by 43, Loyola Chicago by 42.
these numbers mean? First, they tell us that not all schools produce
national law firm partners at rates consistent with their
News rank, even controlling for size. Some produce more, some less. The
data do not tell us why. It may be that students interested in becoming
big-firm partners tend to be attracted to a particular school. Or
perhaps a school’s admission practices favor such students. It may be
that—because of the culture of the school—graduates who accept associate
positions do so seriously, with the intention of trying to make
partner, not just to “get some experience” before moving on. It may even
be that some schools provide superior preparation for big-firm
practice—that some schools teach law and/or practice skills more
effectively than others. Whatever the reason, 25 years of data is
probably enough to capture real differences, even if we cannot explain
Second, not surprisingly, large schools generally
produce more NLJ 100 partners than small schools. From an employer’s
perspective, size is relevant in deciding where to interview. How many
Yale graduates are interested in practicing in Philadelphia each year?
Precious few. How many Harvard graduates? The pool is broad and deep.
Given scarce recruiting resources, where should a law firm look for new
associates? The answer is obvious. As a result, roughly 500 firms
interview on-campus at Harvard each year, 250 to 300 at Georgetown, only
about 125 at Yale. The fact that Harvard is an established feeder
school for many more firms in all parts of the country may be of
interest to an applicant whose career objective is to become a partner
at one of those firms.
Many rankings—U.S. News,
among others—compare schools predominantly on a “per capita” or “per
student” basis. The premise is that schools whose average students (or
professors) are better should be ranked higher. This may make sense if
one’s goal is to establish a Platonic hierarchy. Theoretical rankings,
however, are often of only indirect relevance to real-world decisions.
Economies of scale exist in law firm hiring, as elsewhere. If employers
cared solely about per capita outcomes, they would all interview at Yale
(ranked No. 1 by U.S. News). They don’t. For employers attempting to
allocate scarce recruiting resources, aggregate numbers matter.
and when per capita data should be relevant to applicants is a more
complex question. The single most important determinant of how schools
perform on most outcome measures (bar passage, hiring, big-firm
partnership, etc.) is the quality of the students they attract. In
significant part, therefore, per capita outcome measures are merely
proxies for student quality. Unfortunately, applicants commonly misread
such measures as reflecting the value added by attending one school
rather than another. (“I am more likely to pass the bar if I go here
rather than there, because the bar passage rate here is higher.”) Unless
a measure controls for student quality, however, it says nothing about
the value likely to be added to a particular student by a particular
school. The fact that students at highly ranked schools almost always
pass the bar is largely a function of the native ability of the students
themselves. It does not necessarily mean that such schools do anything
to prepare students for the bar—indeed, the fact that students at more
selective schools are likely to pass the bar in any event may even
reduce pressure on such schools to pay attention to bar preparation.
of the value added by particular schools with respect to particular
output measures is a project beyond the scope of this article. I have
not attempted any such analysis here. What I do offer are the raw
numbers—which I believe are less likely to mislead.
aggregate data are not intended as, and should not be read as, measures
of value added. They do, however, provide a plausible measure of feeder
school status. A school that has placed large numbers of partners in the
NLJ 100 over the last 25 years is likely to continue to attract NLJ 100
recruiters to its campus. Hiring committees in such firms, in turn, are
likely to assume that hiring from that school is normal and will likely
be productive. All else being equal, students who aspire to join such
firms are more likely to have an opportunity to do so if they attend
schools with established feeder relationships.