Sunday, March 11, 2012
The Careerist, Too Good for BigLaw, by Vivia Chen:
Check out the first-year associates at your firm. Can you guess who will eventually make partner—those grads from the tippy-top law schools, or the ones from the local-yokel schools?
If you want to make a safe bet, eliminate those wunderkinds who went to the University of Chicago Law School. Instead, put your money on the hardworking stiffs from that other law school in Chicago—Loyola.
Believe it or not, that's the way the numbers work out, according to William Henderson, a law professor at the University of Indiana. Using the job data from the The National Law Journal, Henderson calculates that Loyola grads are six times more likely to make partner at a big firm than University of Chicago grads.
Here's the math: Henderson finds that the ratio of first-year hires to new partners was 0.85 for Loyola (it had 11 first-year associates and 13 new partners in the NLJ 250 firms this year), and 5.12 for Chicago (87 first-year associates and 17 new partners). According to this calculation, every Loyola grad hired by Big Law will make partner, while only one out of five University of Chicago grad will reach that pinnacle.
Think Chicago's partnership stats are bad? They're actually far better than those from Stanford Law School, where the new-hire-to-new-partner ratio for grads is 10.5! Here are the ratios for some of the top law schools, according to Henderson:
- Yale 6.0
- Harvard 4.5
- Stanford 10.5
- Columbia 7.1
- NYU 6.4
- Penn 8.1
- Boalt 8.4
So which schools have a good ratio of hires to partners in Big Law? Well, more "local" schools like Houston (1.0 ratio); Illinois (1.5); Minnesota (2.0)—although schools with national reputations like Texas (1.8) and Vanderbilt (1.8) are also in the mix. (TaxProfBlog has a nice chart listing schools most favored by the NLJ 250, plus the schools' ranking.)
In the case 2012 NLJ 250 data, we lack a reasonable basis for making strong school-specific claims. So, to be crystal clear, we cannot draw the inference that Chicago-Loyola is a better partnership bet that University of Chicago. To draw stronger, more reliable inferences, we would need to average across multiple years. That said, if you doubt the accuracy of Vivia's regional versus elite law school metaphor, see Ted Seto, Where Do Partners Come From? (2011).
Although it is improper to make (literal) school-specific claims from the 2012 data, it is possible to make stronger, more reliable inferences by pooling these data on observable school-level attributes, such as elite versus non-elite status based on U.S. News ranking. This is appropriate because the school-level variability is, for the most part, random (good and bad years cancel each other out); and what is non-random (e.g., a economic recession) tends to apply to all law schools.
Consider the following statistics on 2011 hiring and promotions of graduates of Top 14 versus non-Top 14 law schools (why T14? because these schools have played musical chairs in the U.S. News since the dawn of the rankings):
- Associates hired: 1,769 (T14), 1,525 (non-T14), or 53.7% to 46.3%
- Promotions: 326 (T14), 781 (non-T14), or 29.4% to 70.6%
Using the Associate hired/Partner Promoted ratio statistics referred to by Vivia, the ratio of associates hired to partners promoted is 5.43 for T14 versus 1.95 for the non-T14. The ratio for all schools is 2.98. So, there is a very large skew working against the elite law school grads. The takeaway from these numbers is very straightforward. There is a very big pipeline between T14 and BigLaw, but at some point before partnership, T14 associates tend to get off the train in disproportionately high numbers. ...
So Why Aren't the T14 Grads Dominating the BigLaw Partnership Ranks? Good question. Based on admissions criteria, these folks tend to have significantly higher test scores. And God knows, they enjoy a huge presumption of ability during law school recruiting--law firm hiring partners are incredibly brand-conscious. If partnership were the NCAA tournament, the T14 crowd would consistently be the number 1 and 2 seeds. I have been thinking about this topic for several years. Here are a few plausible theories, all of which can work in concert with one another. Some are statistical, others are sociological: ...