Question & Answer
I went to a top 5 law school, not Harvard or Yale. Can you tell me candidly, am I missing out on any opportunities? Am I getting fewer calls from headhunters than my Harvard and Yale educated colleagues? Are there firms which have a special Harvard and Yale track for partnership?
At the time I chose law schools I never even applied to those schools and it never occurred to me that there would be any differences in opportunities between my choice and those schools. However, since I started working I've heard lots of rumors to the contrary. I've also read some of your columns which seem to reinforce the idea that Harvardites and Yalies have more opportunities than the rest of us. What's the real story?
I'm thinking about changing jobs and I want to get an idea of where I stand and how picky I can afford to be. Thanks a lot,
Curious Law Grad
As a legal recruiter I am always looking for several specific things if I am cold calling for candidates. First, I look for the school and I am always just as pleased with number 5 as I am with number 1. As far as I am concerned, the rankings go back and forth with these top 5 schools and since my office is in New York, all five of the top law schools have basically equal standing in my mind and to my clients.
Quite honestly, over the years my firms has successfully represented candidates from the lowest tiers of law schools although it is clear that the bulk of our placements do come from the first tier law schools as it is with all of the legal search firms.
What makes the difference? Here is what I write about in most of my columns. . . not whether you have graduated from Harvard or Yale but what is on your transcript. You might very well have a J.D. from Harvard but if you have Cs on your transcript and another candidate has a J.D. from a lower ranked law school but has straight As on his/her transcript along with Law Review and other honors, that candidate is going to get the job offer.
There is no question that the law firms are inclined to take a strong look at graduates from Harvard and Yale law schools but I suspect these firms are just inclined to be equally interested in Columbia and Penn and NYU, particularly the firms in New York. In Los Angeles, where you are based, the firms have a particular affinity for Boalt Hall and Stanford.
All you have to do is take a look at a large law firm's Martindale in any specific geographic area and you will see that along with the top five law schools and notice that I refer to the top five schools, not just Harvard and Yale you will see lawyers from other law schools from the top twenty or so that fall into that specific geographic area.
You will also see lawyers at any BigLaw firm from just about almost every major law school in the country but you can be sure that their transcript has a big story to tell (or their relative is either a Justice of the SCOTUS or perhaps a CEO of a Fortune 10 company!).
I really don't think that you are missing out on any calls from recruiters because you went to one of the three schools in the top five other than Harvard of Yale. Nor do I think that you are missing out on any great job opportunities because you chose your law school over applying to Harvard or Yale.
Here's what will cause a Harvard grad or a Yalie lawyer to get a call from a recruiter or a job offer before you do: if he or she has better grades or if he or she happens to be in a more desirable practice area at the time. That's the bottom line. You weren't really serious, were you? Best wishes.
Ann M. Israel