It’s no secret that the legal market can be cutthroat and unpredictable. As numerous law schools across the country continue to churn out more lawyers than there are jobs, ambitious law students are forced to compete for a frightfully small number of desirable jobs, especially for those at top law firms.
As a result, landing a Big Law job depends upon several unique factors: the reputation and quality of your institution’s legal education, your performance in said education, your summer legal experience, geographic location, and even quite a bit of luck.
In this article, we’ll examine one of the biggest factors that will either help or hurt your job search—your choice of law school. This close and truthful examination will hopefully help you better understand what to expect during your job search and what you can do to increase your odds of landing that dream job and we will examine how to get an AmLaw 100 law firm job after graduation
According to the article “How to Land a Job in Big Law” by Kaitlin Edleman on TheVault.com website, there are two ways to get AmLaw 100 law firm job after graduation:
#1—Aim for a law school that is ranked at least within the Top 14 (commonly referred to as “T14”) by the annual U.S. News and World Report rankings.
Unfortunately, the days of attending any respectable law school, performing well, and landing a reasonably prestigious and comfortable job upon or soon after graduation have just about come to an end. Now, you should exercise great judgment before selecting a law school. To make matters more difficult, lesser ranked law firms will often try to attract highly qualified students to attend with generous scholarships, sometimes even promising full tuition. What these law schools tend not to tell prospective students, though, is that these scholarships are often conditional, meaning you must maintain a certain grade-point average as a first-year law student to keep the scholarship in full.
This condition may not seem incredibly troubling, especially when dealing with individuals who are already highly motivated and who most likely have exemplary past academic records. But the truth is that the fierce competition does not begin just after graduation; it begins right there, in the classroom, on the first day of law school. When attending a lesser ranked school, class rank is everything if one is to land a coveted job. As a result, everyone will be working his or her hardest. Not to mention, law school classes are graded rigorously, sometimes on rough curves that may affect the scores of even the brightest and most diligent students.
In addition, the biggest, most prestigious, best-paying law firms—the same law firms with the best employment rates—tend to recruit attorneys at those select Top-14 law schools: think Stanford, Yale, Harvard, Columbia, and so on. In her article, Edleman confirms this when she writes that “associates from Vault’s Top 100, the most prestigious law firms in [the nation] as ranked by nearly 17,000 associates from over 150 large and mid-sized law firms, attended primarily T14 schools.”
That said, schools that are not ranked in the top 14 by the USNWR rankings, but are still ranked rather highly and are located in geographic locations with thriving legal markets, may still offer some hope to talented law students who perform well throughout their legal education. These schools include Fordham University School of Law in New York (ranked 36th), the George Washington School of Law in Washington D.C. (ranked 20th), and the University of Texas School of Law in Austin.
#2—If you do NOT attend a T14 school, you must be an all-star performer and graduate at least in the top 5% of your class.
Often, the top 1% is preferable, depending on the rank of the law school.
As mentioned briefly in the first point, sometimes you can overcome a law school’s less-than-stellar ranking if you perform at the very top of your class. While this task may seem easy enough for the usual bright and conscientious student, do not underestimate the competition, stress, and bouts of self-doubt you will have to endure to reach the top.
Even if you spend several sleepless nights in the library poring over ponderous legal volumes and taking extensive notes, there is no guarantee that you will make it to the top. You may think that you are the best-prepared and most hard-working of your cohorts—and that may even be true to some degree—but do not underestimate the caliber and capabilities of your colleagues. They, too, most likely graduated from respectable undergraduate institutions with great grades.
It’s best to conduct your research before accepting an offer from any law school, T14 or otherwise. You need to ask yourself if you are truly ready to dedicate yourself to rigorous legal studies and if you are truly up to the work that the legal profession demands. If you are, pay close attention to the rankings and choose the best school you can. If you do not choose a T14 school, at least choose a highly-ranked school with a prominent presence in its geographic market.