Top Ten Ranking Brian Leiter's Law School Rankings
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 ¶  The Top 15 Schools From Which the Most "Prestigious" Law Firms Hire New Lawyers, 2008
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Writing Essays

The Top 15 Schools From Which the Most "Prestigious" Law Firms Hire New Lawyers
(or where to go to law school to work at super-elite firms on the two coasts)

October 13, 2008

Where do the most elite law firms in the United States go to hire new lawyers? We started with the most recent Vault list of the most prestigious law firms in the U.S. We had to go to #24 on that list to identify fifteen super elite law firms that had the right kinds of search engines to permit efficient identification of where associates at these law firms went to law school. The firms studied were: Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Sullivan & Cromwell; Skadden Arps; Davis Polk & Wardwell; Simpson Thacher; Clearly Gottlieb; Kirkland & Ellis; Covington & Burling; Paul, Weiss; Williams & Connolly; Sidley Austin; Arnold & Porter; Jones Day; and Morrison & Foerster.

LLM and other degrees beyond the JD were excluded; we searched in August 2008 for associates from 27 law schools in order to rank “the top 15.” Note that this is not a study of national placement power of law schools, since the super elite firms are overwhelmingly clustered in the Northeast corridor and in California; earlier studies are a better measure of the ‘national’ reach of a degree. Even though most of these firms have multiple offices nationally and internationally, the following chart makes clear how dramatic the clustering is among the 15 firms we studied:

City

Firms Headquartered

Other Firm Offices

Total Offices

New York

8

6

14

Washington DC

4

8

12

San Francisco or Palo Alto

1

8

9

Los Angeles

0

8

8

Chicago

2

2

4

Houston

0

2

2

Houston is one of the five biggest cities in the United States, but one has to get into the 40s on the Vault listing before Houston-based firms turn up. (This also, I'm sure, explains the results for the University of Texas in the current study, compared to the earlier studies of national placement: until recently, the student body was 80% Texas residents, who overwhelmingly prefer to enter the major legal markets in Houston and Dallas, which UT dominates. Contrast that with schools like Michigan, Virginia, and Vanderbilt, which do not have many high-powered law firms in their local markets as a draw for students.)

One thing the results indicate is how little impact U.S. News rankings are having on where the firms choose to hire. That is clearest when schools share a regional market. Boston College was, for quite some time, ranked ahead of Boston University in U.S. News, but it is quite clear that BU dominates BC at the best firms in the Northeast corridor. Although Columbia and NYU have been basically deadlocked in U.S. News for a decade now, the elite New York law firms continue to hire more from Columbia than NYU. Chicago, which has been ranked behind NYU and Stanford, and even tied with Penn some years in U.S. News, dominates all three of them when it comes to elite firm hiring, and notwithstanding the enormous coast-bias in the sample pool of firms studied.

The other striking fact about the results is how much geography matters once you get outside the ranks of elite law schools. Fordham, long a favorite with New York firms (essentially third behind Columbia and NYU in the local market), comes in 15th entirely because of the huge clustering of the most elite firms in New York (either with headquarters or major 'branch' offices). Similar observations apply to the striking results for Brooklyn, Cardozo, and George Washington, among others. With 26 "elite" firm offices in New York and Washington, D.C., graduates of schools with strong regional presences in those markets do very well. (Conversely, with 17 "elite" firm offices in California, I was actually surprised that UCLA and USC did not fare better, but this may just be a fluke of the sample size.)

Geography matters in another way too: where students choose to go to law school often says a lot about where they would prefer to work. That probably has much to do with the results for, e.g., Berkeley.

The chart below reports the results. In order to account for the fact that schools differ greatly in size, we divided the total number of graduates in associate positions at elite firms by the recent average class size (rounded to the nearest 25) in order to come up with the number on the basis of which the schools are ranked. Following the chart is a list of where the firms in the study have offices, and then detailed charts showing the number of graduates of each school in associate positions at the firms.



Rank

School

# of Graduates at Elite Firms
/Avg. Graduating Class Size

Total # of Graduates at Elite Firms

1

Columbia University

1.53

613

2

University of Chicago

1.33

265

3

Harvard University

1.13

622

4

New York University

1.11

501

5

Stanford University

0.95

167

6

Yale University

0.94

187

7

Cornell University

0.87

174

 

University of Pennsylvania

0.87

239

9

Northwestern University

0.74

185

10

Duke University

0.71

142

 

University of Michigan

0.71

249

12

Georgetown University

0.67

404

13

University of Virginia

0.62

217

14

University of California, Berkeley

0.59

148

15

Fordham University

0.48

183

 

Other schools studied (not ranked)

 

Boston College

0.16

49

 

Boston University

0.29

87

 

Brooklyn Law School

0.18

91

 

Cardozo Law School/Yeshiva University

0.25

63

 

George Washington University

0.32

161

 

Howard University

0.26

39

 

University of California, Los Angeles

0.39

116

 

University of Notre Dame

0.39

58

 

University of Southern California

0.27

53

 

University of Texas, Austin

0.22

101

 

Vanderbilt University

0.32

64

 

Washington & Lee University

0.07

10

Office locations of the firms studied:

Wachtell: New York
Cravath: New York
Skadden Arps: New York, Beijing, Boston, Brussels, Chicago, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, Munich, Palo Alto, Paris, San Francisco, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, Vienna, Washington DC, Wilmington
Sullivan & Cromwell: New York, Beijing, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Palo Alto, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, Washington DC
Davis Polk: New York, Menlo Park, Washington DC, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Madrid, Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong
Simpson Thacher: New York, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Washington DC, Beijing, Hong Kong, London, Tokyo
Cleary Gottlieb: New York, Washington DC, Paris, Brussels, London, Moscow, Frankfurt, Cologne, Rome, Milan, Hong Kong, Beijing
Kirkland & Ellis: Chicago, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Washington DC
Covington & Burling: Washington DC, Beijing, Brussels, London, New York, San Francisco
Paul, Weiss: New York, Washington DC, London, Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong
Williams & Connolly: Washington DC
Sidley Austin: Chicago, Beijing, Brussels, Dallas, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, Washington DC
Arnold & Porter: Washington DC, New York, London, Brussels, Los Angeles, Northern Virginia, Denver, San Francisco
Jones Day: Washington DC, Atlanta, Beijing, Brussels, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Houston, Irvine, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Milan, Moscow, Munich, New York, Paris, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, Singapore, Sydney, Taipei, Tokyo
Morrison & Foerster San Francisco, Beijing, Brussels, Denver, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, Northern Virginia, Palo Alto, Sacramento, San Diego, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo

Breakdown by Firm

School (avg. class size)/Firm

Wachtell

Cravath

Skadden Arps

Sullivan & Cromwell

Davis Polk

Simpson Thacher

Cleary Gottlieb

Kirkland & Ellis

Totals

Harvard (550)

26

42

87

42

69

48

47

66

427

Yale (200)

12

10

20

18

13

17

26

9

125

Chicago (200)

7

8

42

14

5

9

9

56

150

Stanford (175)

4

10

15

9

11

18

14

11

92

Columbia (400)

17

52

94

64

68

70

56

34

455

NYU (450)

14

24

51

36

47

53

63

39

327

Berkeley (250)

0

2

25

7

8

13

3

6

64

Michigan (350)

1

4

41

6

10

24

17

44

151

Virginia (350)

1

5

32

16

11

26

4

19

114

Penn (250)

11

14

42

20

14

39

19

18

177

Georgetown (600)

0

8

80

3

24

22

28

51

216

Duke (200)

3

4

19

5

10

22

4

13

80

Northwestern (250)

1

7

38

5

13

11

10

44

128

Cornell (200)

2

10

20

8

11

24

15

20

110

Texas (450)

0

2

22

2

0

3

2

4

35

Vanderbilt (200)

0

0

10

0

2

3

0

14

29

UCLA (300)

0

0

27

4

0

7

1

13

52

Fordham (400)

0

21

26

6

11

21

5

14

104

Howard (150)

1

3

5

6

0

4

2

4

25

George Washington (500)

0

1

25

1

7

9

6

24

73

Boston University (300)

1

3

15

9

1

2

7

14

52

Boston College (300)

0

1

10

4

1

2

1

3

22

Notre Dame (150)

1

0

9

0

0

0

2

13

25

Southern California (200)

0

0

8

3

1

5

0

0

17

Brooklyn (500)

0

2

14

12

11

12

6

6

63

Cardozo (250)

0

3

8

0

0

2

8

3

24

Washington & Lee (150)

0

0

2

0

0

0

0

0

2

Breakdown by Firm, continued

School (avg. class size)/Firm

Covington & Burling

Paul, Weiss

Williams & Connolly

Sidley Austin

Arnold & Porter

Jones Day

Morrison & Foerster

Totals

Harvard (550)

32

26

18

46

18

27

28

195

Yale (200)

9

7

8

10

7

8

13

62

Chicago (200)

11

5

6

72

1

14

6

115

Stanford (175)

7

11

5

10

5

12

25

75

Columbia (400)

12

57

6

24

16

13

30

158

NYU (450)

17

52

1

34

11

24

35

174

Berkeley (250)

9

5

1

14

0

12

43

84

Michigan (350)

15

13

3

26

8

26

7

98

Virginia (350)

15

7

9

30

7

30

5

103

Penn (250)

8

14

4

10

4

10

12

62

Georgetown (600)

18

16

18

42

24

42

28

188

Duke (200)

3

10

11

17

2

17

2

62

Northwestern (250)

1

6

2

21

2

21

4

57

Cornell (200)

2

9

1

16

6

16

14

64

Texas (450)

0

4

4

8

3

41

6

66

Vanderbilt (200)

2

0

1

7

8

17

0

35

UCLA (300)

0

4

0

8

3

25

24

64

Fordham (400)

2

8

0

29

4

19

17

79

Howard (150)

1

1

0

5

5

1

1

14

George Washington (500)

19

8

3

19

14

12

13

88

Boston University (300)

5

5

0

10

1

10

4

35

Boston College (300)

0

6

1

14

3

2

1

27

Notre Dame (150)

0

0

0

5

0

27

1

33

Southern California (200)

0

0

0

17

5

9

5

36

Brooklyn (500)

1

5

0

13

3

6

0

28

Cardozo (250)

1

6

0

7

1

19

5

39

Washington & Lee (150)

2

0

1

1

1

3

2

10

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