The Best Law Schools for BigLaw Jobs

February 14, 2017

Working as an associate in a BigLaw firm is the brass ring for many law school students. If that’s your goal, it may seem logical to go to the highest ranked law school that accepts you. But that might not necessarily be the choice. Fortunately, Vault has conducts the largest survey of law firm associates and has collected data to help us figure out which schools are the biggest feeders to BigLaw.

First, let’s look at some raw numbers. There were 15,673 BigLaw associates who participated in Vault’s 2016 survey and identified their ABA-approved law school attended. Here we’ve defined BigLaw as any firm with 150 or more attorneys. Here are the top ten law schools by number of graduates who participated in our survey and are associates in BigLaw firms. 

School

# of BigLaw Associates

% of BigLaw Associates

Columbia University 

890

5.68%

New York University 

886

5.65%

Harvard University 

885

5.65%

Georgetown University 

798

5.09%

University of Virginia 

501

3.20%

University of Pennsylvania 

480

3.06%

University of Michigan—Ann Arbor 

479

3.06%

Fordham University 

478

3.05%

George Washington University 

450

2.87%

Northwestern University (Pritzker) 

438

2.79%


While these are undoubtedly some of the highest ranked law schools, they are also some of the largest. So let’s factor in the size the law school class to see if there are some lower ranked schools punching above their weight. The matriculation data comes from the ABA’s 2016 law school data and represents full-time students only. We used the matriculation numbers to calculate an expected number of BigLaw associates by school size only.  We then compared that to the actual number of BigLaw associates to find out by how much each school was over- or under-represented in BigLaw. Here are the top ten schools in terms of outperforming their expected representation.

School

Matriculation

Expected # of BigLaw

# of BigLaw Associates

Percent above expected

Columbia University 

1165

187

890

376%

Northwestern University (Pritzker) 

658

106

438

315%

University of Pennsylvania 

753

121

480

297%

New York University 

1395

224

886

296%

University of Chicago 

617

99

355

258%

University of Virginia 

934

150

501

234%

University of Michigan—Ann Arbor 

932

150

479

220%

Harvard University 

1767

284

885

212%

Fordham University 

956

154

478

211%

Stanford University 

572

92

286

211%


It turns out that Columbia is still the tops at sending its students into BigLaw jobs, though after that the schools change a bit. Giant schools Georgetown and George Washington drop out of the top 10, replaced by relatively-small Northwestern and Stanford. Perhaps the most interesting school on both these lists is Fordham. The NYC law school is ranked only 37th by U.S. News & World Report, but is one of the biggest feeders into BigLaw no matter how you slice the data. And looking beyond the top ten, there are some surprising schools. Catholic University is ranked 103rd by U.S. News, but is the 26th best school for BigLaw jobs. Brooklyn Law performs similarly well, ranking 97th by U.S. News but 32nd in our list. You can find the entire dataset in a google doc here

We should note that a job in BigLaw is obviously not the only reason to go to law school. Yale doesn’t make the top ten not because BigLaw firms don’t want to hire Yale grads, but because they often make careers outside of BigLaw (for instance in academia). And our methodology isn’t perfect. Part-time students have been excluded from the matriculation numbers, but the associates may very well have been part-time students. Class sizes may also have been larger or smaller when the current associates were in law school. But if you’re looking to go into BigLaw, you’d do well to look closer at this ranking than on U.S. News or other law school rankings.

by Matt Moody

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