Hiring Patterns in Law Schools

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Top law schools admit students with higher LSAT scores, Henderson notes. However, he writes in the National Jurist, academic credentials are not a reliable basis for hiring decisions in an environment where law firms are competing for market share.

''Sure, lawyers need to be smart,” he writes. ''But in this more competitive environment, they also need to be personable, collaborative, entrepreneurial, service oriented, and interested in contributing to the collective welfare of the law firm.”

Henderson says there is a lack of scientific evidence that hiring lawyers with marginally higher test scores puts law firms at a competitive advantage. He cites his own research to illustrate.

In 2007 and 2008, 46 percent of all new associates in the nation's 100 largest law firms came from a top 14 law school. But during the same period, only 39 percent of lawyers promoted to partner came from one of the top 14.

The nation's largest companies show similar statistics. In 2009, only 35 percent of general counsels for Fortune 500 companies had graduated from a top 14 school. ''This suggests that the advantage of higher test scores and academic pedigree diminishes rather than compounds over time—at least for partnership or general counsel positions,” he says.

Henderson also cites a study by Marjorie Shultz and Shelton Zedeck of the University of California at Berkeley that identified 26 factors associated with successful lawyers. No more than eight of the success factors were correlated with academic credentials. Negative correlations for law students included undergraduate GPA being negatively correlated with practical judgment, ability to see the world through the eyes of others, and developing relationships.

''Obviously, beyond intelligence as applied to legal doctrine, many of the attributes needed for success in the ‘new normal' legal economy are not attributes emphasized in law school,” he writes. ''Virtually all law professors were vetted based on a world where academic credentials really mattered. As a group, law professors are ill-equipped for the changes that are occurring.”

Henderson has formed a new company called Lawyer Metrics that provides analysis of qualities shared by successful lawyers, and helps law firms with hiring and retention.

Perhaps this new ‘hierarchy' of law schools will empower the entire legal profession, or at least provide a different yardstick for success. Currently, US News and World Report provides annual rankings of American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law schools.

There are four tiers of law school rankings. Tier 1 law schools are ranked highest and accept only top students. Schools such as Harvard and Yale are always in Tier 1. In addition, higher paying jobs may be more readily available for graduates of Tier 1 schools. In US News and World Report rankings, Tier 1 includes schools 1 through 50.

Tier 2 schools are ranked 51 through 100. Though usually not quite as prestigious as Tier 1 schools, these are still considered good schools. Tiers 3 and 4 schools are usually not as prestigious, and have a higher acceptance rate than Tier 1 and Tier 2 schools. Graduates will usually find employment after graduation, but it is advisable to be individually ranked in the top 10 percent of the class to attract the best offers.

The rankings of 188 law schools fully accredited by the American Bar Association are based on a weighted average of the 12 measures of quality, some of which include average LSAT score, bar exam pass rate and employment opportunities after graduation.

Placement Success, which carries a weight of .20, is based on graduates who are working or pursuing graduate degrees are considered employed. Employment rates are measured at graduation (.04 weight ) and nine months after graduation (.14 weight). For the nine-month employment rate, 25 percent of those whose status is unknown are counted as employed. Those who are unemployed and not seeking jobs are excluded from the calculations and are not counted as unemployed. Those who are unemployed and seeking work are counted as unemployed in the calculations of the employment rates.

A variety of comments, posted at www.abajournal.com following the article include:

''The headline writer misses the point of Henderson's research. There will be a new hierarchy ''within” law schools, not ''of” law schools. Firms still will hire disproportionately from the top ranked schools, if only for the prestige (and also because it still will be a plus to be smart), but they may hire different students from these schools based on different standards of measurement (e.g., personality testing as well as grades). In response, law schools will become more like Business schools in their curricula, faculty, and grading systems.”

''Shouldn't the appropriate comparison for the percentage ''Top 14” grads making partner at the 100 largest firms in 2007 and 2008 be the % of ''Top 14” grads starting as first-year associates at those firms in 1998 or 1999, rather than the percentage of ''Top 14” grads starting at those firms in 2007 and 2008? That percentage may have changed over time given the shifts in legal practice and the economy over that period.

Further, maybe one reason that ''Top 14” grads are underrepresented as partners at the 100 largest firms is because they found better things to do. For instance, anyone who worked a couple of years at a big firm and then sought to follow Obama's footsteps would be a cause of ''Top 14” grads' underrepresentation as partners. There are many ''Top 14” grads in business and politics etc.''

Learn the 10 Factors That Matter to Big Firms More Than Where You Went to Law School

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