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by Nicole Weber | February 26, 2014


Each year, the National Law Journal publishes a list of “Go-To Law Schools,” i.e., the 50 law schools that send the highest percentage of graduates into BigLaw. Columbia is this year’s big winner, climbing up from the third place spot it held for the past two years. The elite New York City school sent 65 percent of 2013 graduates to NLJ 250 firms. Penn Law held the #1 spot in 2011 and 2012, but this year it bumped to fifth place (with 52.5 percent of grads heading to big firms), falling behind NYU (55 percent), Harvard (53.55 percent), and UChicago (53 percent). The other school with greater than 50 percent of grads going to NLJ 250 firms was Northwestern (51 percent). You can see the full list here (subscription required).

So what do we make of these numbers? If you are applying to law schools, have your pick of the litter, and are interested in maxing out your odds of landing a fancy firm job after graduation, this list is especially relevant to you. If you are a law school grad, this list might give you bragging rights (or the opposite) depending on your alma mater. Extra points for the often overlooked career services professionals at the top schools on the list, who can rest easy for about five minutes before they begin scrambling to maintain their “Go-To” status going forward. 

To everyone else, the numbers represent modest growth in the legal job market over the past several years.  For an industry that was dramatically impacted by the recession, this is good news—especially in a year when a record number (nearly 46,500 graduates, 2,000 more than the previous year) entered the job market, according to NLJ. On average, the 50 schools on the Go-To list sent 27 percent of recent graduates to NLJ 250 firms, up from 25 percent in 2012 and the highest figure since 2010. This average figure was 42 percent for the top 20 Go-To schools, an increase of 2 percent from last year.

The NLJ also listed “Firm Favorites,” indicating the schools from which certain firms grabbed the most associates. These numbers make sense given the location of each firm’s largest office and the prestigious schools nearby.  From Columbia, Cleary Gottlieb hired 23 grads and Skadden took 16. Ropes & Gray hired 19 Harvard grads, Kirkland & Ellis hired 17 Northwestern grads, and Latham hired 11 UVA grads.

While Columbia and its other Go-To bedfellows at the tip-top of the list might be sitting pretty right now, a spot in the top 50 does not necessarily mean you've made it. As Vivia Chen of The Careerist pointed out, nearly half of the Go-To schools sent less than 20 percent of grads into BigLaw—which really means that at those schools, NLJ250 firms are only interested in those at the head of the class. Other students with their sights on BigLaw should have a back-up plan. In that sense, “Go-To” is somewhat of a misnomer.

Is 27 percent of students going to BigLaw really a high enough number to celebrate? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Filed Under: Law

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