The Legal Employment Market: Determinants of Elite Firm Placement, and How Law Schools Stack Up


Data collected on 15,293 law firm associates from 1295 employers who graduated from law school between 2001 and 2003 were used to develop a “total quality score” for every ABA-accredited law school, both nationally and for nine geographic regions. Quantitative methods were then used to identify factors that help explain the variation in a law school’s national career placement success at elite law firms. The findings revealed that while a law school’s academic reputation is the single biggest predictor of placement, several other factors were also highly significant. Differences in grading system, class rank disclosure policies, and the number of first year courses required were responsible for significant variation. Numbers grade systems, such as those used at the University of Chicago, and honors/pass/fail grading systems, such as those used by Yale, both have a strong negative impact on placement when all else is held equal, likely because both systems impair the middle of the class’s job prospects relative to traditional letter grade systems. Law schools that do not disclose class rank to students or employers place better than schools that disclose rank, when all else is held constant, although it is unclear whether this is due to employer preferences or due to disparate psychological effects on students that impact their career placement strategies. Law schools that require a greater number of first year classes, however, can make up for deficiencies in these other areas.


Economics | Legal Education | Legal Profession

Date of this Version

April 2005