Friday, March 21, 2014

How Much Do Legal Employers Consider an Applicant's Law School's U.S. News Rank in Making Employment Decisions?

Not much according to a recent study by Neil Hamilton.

Earlier this week Brian Leiter had a post on his blog that declared, "Elie Mystal, one of the bloggers at 'Above the Law,' wrote this last week ["U.S. News, for all its faults, is how employers think of you"]. . .   No evidence was offered, and that's not surprising:  the statement is false in almost all cases. . . .  Actual lawyers and judges do not, in my experience, pay any attention to U.S. News at all.  A couple of years ago, for example, I was speaking to a distinguished group of Northwestern University Law School alumni about the U.S. News rankings.  There were about 125 to 150 lawyers (and a few judges) there.  Many of the lawyers in attendance had been or were the current hiring partners at their firms.  I asked a simple question:  how many had looked at the recent U.S. news rankings of law schools?  Maybe five hands went up in the entire room.  To a person, all these lawyers and judges said they based their evaluations of law schools--where they recruit, how deep into the class they will go for new hires--on their past experience with the schools and their graduates.  Full stop.  No one was waiting for the U.S. News law school rankings to decide where to interview or whom to hire."

When I read this argument, I felt that it coincided with my experience.  Prospective law school applicants obsess with U.S. News, but legal employers do not.  However, both my intuition and Leiter's experiment are anecdotal.  I don't like to rely solely on anecdotal evidence.

Neil Hamilton has recently posted an empirical study that backs up the above anecdotal evidence: Changing Markets Create Opportunities: Emphasizing the Competencies Legal Employers Use in Hiring New Lawyers (Including Professional Formation/Professionalism).  In this study, Hamilton examined the various competencies that differing types of legal employers used in making hiring decisions.  These competencies included rank of the law school attended.

Hamilton first looked at "The Relative Importance of Different Competencies in the Decision to Hire a New Associate for the Largest 14 Minnesota Law Firms."  Rank of law school attended placed 22nd in Hamilton's study.  Next, he evaluated "The Relative Importance of Different Competencies in the Decision to Hire a New Lawyer for 18 County Attorneys in Minnesota."  Rank of candidate's law school was last at 23.  Finally, he studied "The Relative Importance of Different Competencies in the Decision to Hire a New Lawyer for the Regional Aid Offices in Minnesota."   Law school rank again came in last at 23.

Based on this study, it is obvious that most legal employers place little emphasis on a prospective employee's law school rank.  For years, I (and many, many, many others) have attacked the reliability of the U.S. News law school rankings.  Now, we also know that legal employers don't care very much about the rankings.

(Scott Fruehwald)

P.S.  I will discuss Professor Hamilton's article more next week.

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