In The National Law Journal‘s first ranking of the law schools from which the 50 largest U.S. law firms hired first-year associates, those that topped the list not surprisingly featured some of the most prominent names in legal education.

Columbia Law School ranked No. 1, with 38% of its graduating class getting hired as a first-year associate at one of the top 50 firms, based on census information collected in the NLJ’s annual survey of the nation’s 250 largest law firms. Northwestern University School of Law and the University of Pennsylvania Law School were close behind with 37%.

Northwestern and Penn benefited from having a smaller graduating class, which boosted their standings, even though only 82 and 91 students, respectively, were hired from those schools. Harvard Law School had 166 graduates hired at top 50 firms, Georgetown University Law Center had 149, and New York University School of Law had 137.

The numbers of students hired at these firms were provided by the firms in this year’s NLJ 250 survey, but the listing of top 50 firms is based on last year’s survey, as the ranking of this year’s NLJ 250 has not yet been finalized. (It will appear in the Nov. 14 issue.)

The list of schools appearing in our survey is strikingly similar-though in different order-to the list of the top 20 schools in an annual ranking done by U.S. News & World Report, a widely read law school ranking. The only two schools of our top 20 that do not appear in the U.S. Newstop 20 are University of Illinois College of Law, ranked No. 26 by U.S. News, and University of Notre Dame Law School, ranked No. 24. The schools in the U.S. Newstop 20 that did not make our list are those of University of Southern California, the University of Minnesota and George Washington University. (There are three because U.S. Newshad a tie for 20th place.)

It should also be noted that the rankings look at the numbers of hires from 2005, but compared to the number of students awarded J.D.s in 2004, provided by the American Bar Association. (The figures for 2005 were not readily available.)

The percentage of classes hired at the top firms quickly drops off after the top 20 schools, indicating that law firms have a fairly set list of schools that they hire from.

“We do not arbitrarily limit our incoming class to graduates from a set list of schools,” said James Hough, the hiring partner at Morrison & Foerster. However, the firm does limit the schools at which it conducts on-campus interviews. Hough listed nine of the top law schools as core schools where the firm recruits.
WHERE THE TOP 50 FIRMS HIRED FROM
Law school Associates hired in 2005 2004 J.D.s Percentage hired at top 50 firm
Columbia Law School 151 397 38%
Northwestern University School of Law 82 224 37%
University of Pennsylvania Law School 91 249 37%
University of Chicago Law School 69 191 36%
Stanford Law School 57 177 32%
Cornell Law School 59 186 32%
New York University School of Law 137 439 31%
Harvard Law School 166 551 30%
University of Virginia School of Law 103 359 29%
Duke Law School 61 237 26%
Yale Law School 46 183 25%
University of Michigan Law School 87 387 22%
University of California, Berkeley School of Law 72 322 22%
Georgetown University Law Center 149 687 22%
Vanderbilt Univeristy Law School 38 195 19%
University of Texas School of Law 88 466 19%
University of Illinois College of Law 39 214 18%
University of California at Los Angeles School of Law 48 328 15%
Univeristy of Notre Dame Law School 24 166 14%
Boston University School of Law 33 233 14%
Hiring information collected this year from 45 of the top 50 law firms listed on the NLJ’s 2004 survey of the nation’s largest law firms (five firms declined to participate); class size as collected by the American Bar Association for 2004



Hough said that if a student is not at a top school where the firm interviews, “we generally learn about him or her from a letter or e-mail submission, or the recommendation of a friend or law professor.” If a school isn’t on the firm’s list of where it recruits, candidates must have a “stellar academic performance.”

Another factor in the rankings may be the school’s location. Both Columbia and NYU graduates, for instance, were hired frequently at major New York firms.