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Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Pedigree Problem: Are Law School Rankings Choking the Profession?

PedigreeABA Journal (July 2012): Cover Story: The Pedigree Problem: Are Law School Ties Choking the Profession?, by William Henderson (Indiana-Bloomington) & Rachel M. Zahorsky (ABA):

Decades after graduation, elite law school degrees continue to open doors closed to graduates of less-favored schools. Prestige drives a huge proportion of law firm hiring, judicial clerkships, and coveted positions at the U.S. Department of Justice and within the legal academy.

In contrast, law degrees from lower-ranked schools can create enormous uphill struggles for even the most talented and determined lawyers. A student from a nonelite law school may still get a foot in the door with high marks, but very few opportunities go to law students just because their schools more effectively develop core skills and knowledge or adopt innovative curricula or teaching methods. ...

Snobbism and elitism are the last socially acceptable prejudices. If law school rankings accurately foretold lawyer success, there’d be good reason for thousands of law graduates to be demoralized. But statistics have shown decidedly that they don’t. Instead, the preference toward the so-called elite is largely rooted in vanity and identity. ...

Update: Paul Horwitz (Alabama), Henderson and Zahorsky on the "Law School Pedigree Problem"

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2012/07/the-pedigree-problem-.html

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Comments

It's an interesting story, except that it might not be true. The schools that place the most students in high-paid, big firm jobs aren't always the most prestigious.

They're generally urban schools that have strong corporate law faculty, with actual practice experience.

http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?interactive=true&id=1202543436520&slreturn=1

Low ranked Rutgers, Seton Hall, and Houston beat highly ranked Wisconsin. USC and Michigan beat Yale.

Hire for hire, the law schools that generate the most big law firm partners also aren't always the most prestigious.
http://abovethelaw.com/2012/03/are-graduates-of-elite-law-schools-too-good-for-biglaw/

Are judicial clerkships and jobs in legal academe status conscious? Absolutely. And we all know about alleged "letter head bias" in publication in law reviews.

But law firms at least seem to be able to distinguish between someone with a Yale brand name and someone who produces high quality work.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 1, 2012 1:48:58 PM

"But the rise of the U.S. News rankings has caused law schools to narrowly focus on the academic credentials of each entering class and drastically reduce the weight formerly given to personal statements, work experience and letters of recommendation."

Do these soft factors predict bar passage rates or making partner any better than standardized test scores or undergraduate class rank?

Or do they just inject the subjective opinions of professors and admissions officers into the process, increase costs, and reduce the predictive value of admissions decisions?

There's a reason why standardized tests are used. Because they work.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 1, 2012 2:02:56 PM

As I read Henderson's article more thoroughly, I see he addresses traits that help lawyers get better evaluations from superiors and peers.

But two questions then come to mind:

(1) How can the ability to develop these traits be predicted, and how can students' current level be measured at a price law schools and employers can afford;

(2) What do clients and judges value? Peer evaluation is one thing, but at the end of the day, law is an adversary process and a business.

Law schools have to serve the law firms, and law firms have to serve the clients.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 1, 2012 2:14:33 PM

Henderson focuses on BigLaw, and mentions credentialism in academic and law clerk hiring. He does not mention, however, the problem of the federal courts. Our SCOTUS is composed of nine graduates of three schools, eight from HLS and Yale, and one from Columbia. The problem--and it is unquestionably a problem--is not quite as severe in lower federal courts, but manifests itself right down to the selection of magistrate judges.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Jul 2, 2012 6:34:11 AM

I find it hilarious that legal types focus so much energy on prestige, but on the other hand, it makes me feel so elite: I have turned down two different offers of acceptance by Harvard, which surely puts me in a group more elite than that of those who were accepted and actually attended!

Posted by: Jimbino | Jul 2, 2012 9:12:53 AM

From what I've seen over the past three years, laws are selectively enforced only against the "little people."
The U.S. would be better off without lawyers.

Posted by: PacRim Jim | Jul 2, 2012 12:12:40 PM

Publius Novus-- Ginsburg spent her first two year at HLS. Explain the nature of the unquestionable problem.

Posted by: BH | Jul 2, 2012 2:42:31 PM