Harvard law students, left to right: Alison Welcher, Maura Whelan, Julie Ruderman, and Sheila Lopez. ()
Correction: This article has been changed to correct a misspelling of the Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law.
Harvard Law School sends more graduates per capita into corporate boardrooms and executive suites than any other law school.
That finding comes from Pepperdine University School of Law associate professor Robert Anderson, who used the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings of publicly traded companies to determine which 25 law schools have the highest percentage of alumni serving as corporate directors or executive officers. Anderson wrote about his findings on his blog, Witnesseth: Law, Deals, & Data.
Anderson said he was inspired by an academic paper by three law professors who concluded that a fairly rigid hierarchy among law schools existed long before U.S. News & World Report began its law school rankings during the 1990s. He wanted to see whether those same hierarchies exist outside the legal realm.
“Is the legal hierarchy really driven by the legal profession itself?” Anderson wrote. “What if we could have a glimpse into a perspective on law school prestige from outside the legal echo chamber? Would the very same hierarchy manifest itself, or would criteria other than decades old rankings dominate?”
The corporate world seemed a good place to look, given that business types are said to place a higher premium on job performance than educational pedigree, Anderson said in an interview.
After filtering though filings from 1,503 companies, Anderson found that the schools with the most alumni in corporate boardrooms track closely with the U.S. News rankings. Harvard—ranked No. 2 by U.S. News—topped Anderson’s list, with 207 current directors and executive officers, or 0.361 corporate leaders per enrolled student. Stanford Law School, which tied with Harvard for No. 2 on U.S. News’ list this year, was next with 64 corporate leaders, or 0.359 leaders per enrolled student. Columbia Law School (No. 4), Yale Law School (No. 1) and Cornell Law School (No. 13) round out the top 5 schools on Anderson’s list.
“Basically, what we’re saying is that either law school admission predicts business prowess—which I doubt—or more people are hiring lawyers to sit on corporate boards based on their law school pedigree,” Anderson said. “I’m kind of surprised that an Ivy League law degree would go that far in the business world.”
Anderson cautioned that the total number of lawyers serving on corporate boards in his analysis omits some lawyers missed by the computer software he used to examine the SEC filings, but said the school-to-school comparisons are still accurate.
A handful of law schools performed better on the corporate boardroom analysis than their U.S. News rankings would indicate, Anderson said. West Virginia University College of Law landed at No. 16 on his list with 12 corporate leaders, or 0.09 for each enrolled student, but U.S. News ranks the Morgantown law school at No. 91.
Similarly, the Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law and Brooklyn Law School landed on Anderson’s top-25 list for corporate leadership, but neither cracked the top 50 in U.S. News’ rankings. Those results could represent anomalies, he said, given that lawyer alumni in corporate leaderships roles fall off fairly quickly outside the to top five schools on the list.
“I expected to see a more even distribution,” Anderson said.