Given that fresh-faced law school grads are facing the worst job market in 18 years, you might think pre-law students would be dissuaded from stepping into the breach. Apparently not.

Kaplan Test Prep released its 2012 survey on Tuesday on how prospective law students are selecting their law schools, and found that the paucity of jobs has not really influenced those decisions. In the two years since the previous study, Kaplan found that pre-law students continue to place a much higher value on where a law school stands in the rankings than on how many of its graduates land legal jobs. 

When asked “What is most important to you when picking a law school to apply to?”, 32 percent of respondents cited a law school’s ranking; followed by geographic location (22 percent); academic programming (20 percent); and affordability/tuition (13 percent). Interestingly, only 8 percent of respondents were most concerned with a law school’s job placement statistics.

These factors ranked in the same order in the October 2010 survey, but a school’s ranking increased in importance in the 2012 survey.

Kaplan also asked, “How important a factor is a law school’s ranking in determining where you will apply?” Eighty-six percent of respondents said that ranking is “very important” or “somewhat important” in deciding where to apply, which is the same exact percentage as the October 2010 survey.

As for where pre-law students hoped to eventually hang their hats, 38 percent said they hoped to chase the big bucks by working in Big Law, and 31 percent responded that they wanted to go into public interest law. There was a three-way tie among other options, with 23 percent saying they wanted to work for boutique firms, another 23 percent saying they wanted to use their JDs to go into politics at some point and a separate 23 percent responding that they wanted to use their degrees for business purposes. 

Coincidentally, these career desires closely mirror what respondents told Kaplan when asked the same question in the October 2010 survey.

“While it may seem counterintuitive that pre-law students aren’t placing greater importance on a school’s job placement stats, most applicants know that there is a direct correlation between where a student graduates from, their starting salary and career prospects, which is likely why rankings are consistently the most important consideration by far,” Jeff Thomas, director of pre-law programs, Kaplan Test Prep, said in a release. “But with some law schools cutting their number of seats and the job market tight, pre-law students may have to think more strategically now.” The American Bar Association recently noted that the only about 8 percent of 2011 law school grads were picked up by law firms with more than 250 attorneys. Following up on those figures, the Wall Street Journal yesterday ranked the top 25 law schools based on the percentage of 2011 grads who landed long-term positions at firms with more than 250 attorneys.

The top 25 schools in order of percentage of graduates who landed Big Law roles are:

  1. Columbia University (59%)
  2. University of Pennsylvania (53%)
  3. Northwestern University (48%)
  4. Harvard University (46%)
  5. University of Chicago (44%)
  6. Stanford University (43%)
  7. New York University (42%)
  8. (tie) Duke University & University of California-Berkeley (38%)
  9. Cornell University (35%)
  10. University of Virginia (33%)
  11. University of Southern California (31%)
  12. Georgetown University (30%)
  13. Yale University (29%)
  14. University of Michigan (29%)
  15. Vanderbilt University (25%)
  16. Fordham University (22%)
  17. University of Texas at Austin (21%)
  18. University of California-Los Angeles (20%)
  19. Boston College (19%)
  20. George Washington University (18%)
  21. Boston University (16%)
  22. Emory University (15%)
  23. Washington University (14%)
  24. University of Washington (12%)

For more details on the ranking, read the Wall Street Journal.

For more on Kaplan’s survey, click here.

And for more from InsideCounsel on law school job placement and careers, read:

2011 law school grads face worst job market in 18 years

Law school debt estimates exceed $200,000 for class of 2015

New York to require aspiring lawyers to complete pro bono work

Shrinking Schools

Judge tosses suit against New York Law School for misleading jobs data

20 more law schools to be sued for misleading jobs data

U.S. News & World Report names 2013 best law schools

Some law school grads head directly in-house