Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Will a law school's USNWR rank count less as law firms look to other factors to assess law student success?

Professor William Henderson of Indiana University School of Law predicts, in connection with a possible fundamental change in the legal market place, that a law school's USNWR ranking will matter less to employers than more individualized ways to measure a law student's potential for success in practice such as psychological and behavioral testing.

According to his article in the July, 2010 NALP Bulletin entitled "Class of 2009:  Recession or Restructuring":

Changes in the recruiting model are being forced on law firms by general counsel who are refusing to pay exorbitant hourly rates for first and second year associates. 'If law firms have to absorb the cost of training first and second year lawyers, they have a strong incentive to hire fewer of them and keep them longer.'

These dynamics do not necessarily favor the most highly ranked law schools. . . Going forward, we can expect to see fewer associates hired by large corporate law firms and more rigorous screening, including behavioral interviews, psychometric tests, and parsing of résumés in search of non-academic indicators associated, at statistically significant levels, with long-term success within particular law firms. In an environment where clients increasingly evaluate firms based on value, grades and law school attended are less important.

I'm  a bit more skeptical than Professor Henderson because I think that the decision about whom to hire will always be driven by cost and thus employers will continue to rely on school and individual class rank because they are "free" assessment methods despite their inexactitude.  Don't get me wrong; I agree that USNWR and class rank don't tell the whole story as far as measuring a law student's potential for success as a lawyer, but I still think most employers will choose the cheaper path for making hiring decisions despite the inevitable mistakes that result.  I hope I'm wrong.

You can read more about Professor Henderson's predictions for the changing legal job market as published in the NALP newsletter here


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