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by Kaitlin Edleman | August 20, 2014


Law school applicants often face the choice between attending a higher ranked law school at full tuition and attending a lower ranked law school with a partial scholarship. Although it may seem like only a choice between tuitions, choosing the right law school may be even more important than OLs realize.

According to research by FindTheBest, a research company that aggregates data and draws conclusions based on that data, law school rankings “matter tremendously” and “a spot in a top 14 school is essential.” FindTheBest noted that T14 schools, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, claim the best employment rates and T14 graduates are heavily recruited to the largest, most desirable--read highest paying--law firms.

Although the results of this study are somewhat general and certainly unsurprising--just ask anyone who has been through OCI recently--prospective law students should seriously consider the impact the law school they attend will have on their future careers and dreams of the $160,000 BigLaw starting salary. 

Vault’s data confirms FindTheBest’s results that those vying for a BigLaw job should attend a T14 school. Associates from Vault’s Top 100, the most prestigious law firms in the United States as ranked by nearly 17,000 associates from over 150 large and mid-sized law firms, attended primarily T14 schools. 

T 14 schools

The 14 most common law schools attended by Vault 100 associates include all of U.S. News’ T14 schools except Yale Law School, Stanford Law School and Cornell Law School. The schools outside of T14 are Fordham University School of Law (ranked No. 36), The George Washington University Law School (ranked No. 20) and The University of Texas School of Law (ranked No. 15). Although not T14, those schools are still highly ranked and located in strong legal markets--New York City, Washington, DC and Texas, respectively. Additionally, schools like Fordham may have longstanding connections with BigLaw firms that other lower ranked schools do not. According to a Chadbourne & Parke associate, “The firm generally recruits from top 14 law schools and also maintains a strong relationship with Fordham, which is one of the [New York City] area’s top law schools outside the top 14.”

Associates from Vault 100 firms go on to confirm that those seeking a job in BigLaw better have the law school pedigree. When asked what factors mattered most when hiring new attorneys, Vault 100 associates emphasized that while “fit” was important, attending a highly ranked law school and earning excellent grades were required to even warrant a response email from H.R.

One Jenner & Block associate put it bluntly, “Law school is by far the most important criterion.  If you are not at one of the top 10 schools, you have very little shot of being hired.” For firms that are willing to look beyond the T14, a Mayer Brown associate noted, “In addition to the typical top 10 schools, [the firm is] eager to hire people at the very, very top of their graduating classes from lower-ranked schools. In my class were individuals from the top 1 percent of the University of Indiana, University of Wisconsin, University of Illinois and University of Iowa.” Students at T14 schools are given a break on their grades that students at non-T14 schools are not. “Someone from a top-10 school could have a lower G.P.A.,” says a Nixon Peabody associate.

Prospective law students considering a non-T14 school because they received a scholarship may think they can breeze to the top of their classes because they are more qualified--hence the scholarship--and smarter--after all they had a 4.0 in college. However, they should remember that, even at lower ranked schools, all admitted students are smart and likely had killer undergraduate G.P.A.s, the competition for the top 5 percent of the class will be fierce. Additionally, scholarships are often used by lower ranked schools to lure students into accepting offers to keep the schools’ admission rates high and are often conditional upon law school performance. The law school may give a small scholarship to 50 percent of incoming 1Ls and condition it upon remaining in the top 20 percent, meaning that more than half of those eager bright students will lose their scholarship and be stuck at the lower ranked school paying full tuition. So even if law students pick the lower ranked school to save money, they might end up being forced to pay the full cost of tuition and then will be less likely to land a BigLaw job that will enable them to easily pay off their loans. Additionally, because many large law firms don’t even participate at OCI at lower ranked schools, even mediocre students at T14 schools have a better shot at BigLaw than top-ranked students at lower ranked schools.

The bottom line is this--rankings for law schools are important and potentially career making (or breaking).  Prospective law students fortunate enough to gain admission to a T14 school should take it.

Thank you Vera Djordjevich for creating the table!

Follow Vault on Twitter @VAULTLAW, Instagram @VaultCareers and Facebook  


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Filed Under: Law Tags: BigLaw|Job Search |Law School

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