You are applying to law school. Your long-term ambition is to
become a partner in a national law firm in a certain city. Which schools
may increase your chances of realizing that ambition?
date, no published study has attempted to answer the question: Which law
schools produce the largest numbers of partners at national law firms?
This article is intended to fill that gap. It reports the results of a
study of the schools from which junior and mid-level partners (partners
who graduated within the last 25 years) in the 100 largest U.S. firms
(the NLJ 100) obtained their J.D. degrees. For hiring partners, the
results may be relevant in deciding where to spend recruiting resources.
For law school applicants interested in becoming big-firm partners, the
study may be relevant in deciding where to enroll.
moving into law teaching 20 years ago, I was a hiring partner at a
large Philadelphia law firm. We interviewed intermittently at Yale and
Stanford. We tried interviewing at UCLA, but without success. Based on
the results of the study reported in this article, I now understand why.
In the past quarter century, UCLA has not produced a single graduate
who is currently a partner in an NLJ 100 Philadelphia office; Stanford
and Yale have each produced an average of one every dozen years—not a
very encouraging yield.
As a professor, I often talk with
applicants about how to realize their life goals. I recall one student
in particular, who was attempting to choose between Vanderbilt and the
school at which I teach—Loyola Los Angeles. His ambition was to become a
big-firm partner in Los Angeles. As students often do, he chose the
higher U.S. News & World Report -ranked school. When he graduated
from Vanderbilt, he was unable even to get an interview in Los Angeles.
Had he attended Loyola, his paper credentials and performance at
Vanderbilt suggest that he would have graduated near the top of his
class. If he had, his chances of getting an offer from a large Los
Angeles firm would have been quite high. Again, based on the results of
the study reported in this article, I can explain why. Hiring by
national law firms is astonishingly local. There are very few truly
national law schools. Vanderbilt is not an established LA feeder school.
Part I of this article describes the study,
the resulting database, and the methods used to compute the numbers
reported herein. Part II and Appendix A report overall results—which
schools have produced the most NLJ 100 partners nationwide over the past
quarter century and which have produced relatively few. Part III
reports results separately for each of the country’s ten largest legal
markets. Hiring and partnering by national law firms, it turns out, are
predominantly local; national rank is much less important than location.
Part IV, finally, identifies the few law schools that contribute
significantly to more than one major legal market in more than one
state. Harvard and Georgetown are standouts; Yale and Stanford are not.
Study and method
Between June, 2010, and June, 2011, ten research assistants
searched the Martindale-Hubbell online law directory site for each of
the 250 largest U.S. law firms—specifically, the firms comprising the
2009 NLJ 250. Each partner’s J.D. school, date of graduation or date of
first bar admission and office or offices of practice were collected.
Date of first bar admission was used as a proxy when date of graduation
was not listed. Law firm websites were searched to fill in missing data.
The result was a database of 48,103 partners nationwide.
entries were then rechecked against Martindale-Hubbell to ensure data
quality. Ambiguous listings (e.g., “University of California”) were
allocated among possible law schools in proportion to their unambiguous
listings. Graduates of Indiana, Missouri, Rutgers and Arkansas generally
did not list the campus they attended. Graduates of Indiana and
Missouri were allocated arbitrarily 60 percent-40 percent between the
two relevant campuses, with the larger number allocated to the U.S. News
higher-ranked campus. Graduates of Rutgers were allocated 50 percent-50
percent between Newark and Camden, which are currently ranked equally
by U.S. News, graduates of Arkansas 50
percent-50 percent between Fayetteville and Little Rock.
J.D. graduates of U.S. law schools were included in the study. Partners
for which neither date of graduation nor date of first bar admission
were available were omitted, as were partners who graduated in 1985 or
earlier. The result was a database of 26,973 partners who had graduated
within the last 25 years and were currently listed as partners,
shareholders, principals or the equivalent in one of the NLJ 250 firms.
NLJ 100 and the NLJ 250 were both analyzed. Of the 26,973 partners in
the relevant age cohort in the NLJ 250, 16,799 were partners in the 100
largest U.S. firms. Because hiring by smaller firms (the NLJ 101-250)
was even more focused on local law schools than that of larger firms, we
decided to restrict the study to the 100 largest firms—those with a
national focus. Except as noted, the results reported in this article
are limited to those firms.
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.
Results by city
Please see page 7 of the pdf format of the article
for the results by city.
schools dominate the lists: NYU and Columbia in New York; Georgetown
and George Washington in D.C.; Northwestern and Chicago in Chicago; UCLA
and Loyola Los Angeles in LA; BC, BU and Harvard in Boston. The fact
that a school places at or near the top of the
rankings does not necessarily mean it is a strong feeder to law firms
nationwide. Yale appears on just two lists, New York (tenth) and
Washington (seventh); Stanford only on the California lists, Los Angeles
(tenth), San Francisco (eighth) and San Diego (fifth). Stanford’s
relatively poor showing in San Francisco is particularly surprising.
the next 150 largest firms to the analysis—that is, using the full NLJ
250—generally accentuates this local hiring and partnering bias. In New
York, Fordham passes Harvard to move into third place; Brooklyn and St.
John’s pass the University of Pennsylvania. In Los Angeles, Southwestern
passes Georgetown and Stanford passes Columbia. (But Harvard passes UC
Are there any schools that are significant feeders in all ten of the largest U.S. markets? Only one: Harvard. If we assign ten points for each first-place finish in one of the ten largest U.S. markets, one point for each tenth-place finish, and corresponding points in between, we can compute a national impact score for each school. The following table omits schools that make top ten lists in only one state and ranks the nine schools with the highest national impact scores.
Table 12: National Impact Scores
Score - Markets
1 Harvard 66 All ten
2 Georgetown 38 All except Atlanta and Dallas
3 Virginia 20 DC, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas
4 Columbia 16 NY, DC, Boston, LA, SF
5 Michigan 15 DC, Chicago, SF, Dallas, San Diego
6 Chicago 13 DC, Chicago, Dallas
7 Boston U. 11 NY, Boston
7 NYU 11 NY, Boston
7 Vanderbilt 11 Houston, Atlanta, Dallas
Georgetown is the big surprise. Ranked only fourteenth by U.S. News, it makes the top ten feeder school lists for eight of the ten largest U.S. legal markets, emerging as Harvard’s closest competitor for national status. NYU is a bit of a surprise in the opposite direction. Given its size and reputation, one might expect a more national footprint. Its graduates, however, are dominant only in New York. Finally, at least in the production of partners at national law firm offices in the ten largest U.S. legal markets, Yale and Stanford perform in a manner inconsistent with their U.S. News rankings. The data do not tell us why.
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The purpose of the present study is not to supplant or critique existing
rankings. It is rather to provide information not otherwise available
that employers and law school applicants may find useful in making the
practical choices they inevitably must make. Employers may find schools’
track records in producing graduates who ultimately become and remain
partners relevant to devising cost-effective recruiting strategies.
Applicants may find the data interesting as well. Not all students aim
to become big-firm partners. Indeed, many other rewarding career paths
can be pursued in the law. Nevertheless, much of the law school
applicant pool is likely to view schools’ big-firm feeder-school status
as material—one pertinent fact among many. The study’s most important
conclusion is that hiring and partnering, even by national law firms, is
remarkably local. U.S. News rank is often a poor predictor of partner