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July 2012 Issue

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Cover Story

The Pedigree Problem: Are Law School Ties Choking the Profession?

John, a senior associate at a regional law firm, read the recruiter’s email a second time, still in disbelief.

An experienced litigator, John (who asked not to be identified out of concern for future job prospects) graduated in the top 10 percent of his law school class in 2006 with a resumé that boasted the brass rings of law review and moot court, where he won numerous awards. His undergraduate GPA was equally stellar, and in the past six years he’d run numerous litigation matters. His annual billed hours remained in the top 5 percent of his firm.

Yet, according to the message, his legal career hinged on a single factor: the name of his second-tier law school.

“We don’t typically recruit from [school X],” the recruiter wrote, noting that John’s pre-law-school professional background would be the sole reason the firm might reconsider in the future. “We’ll pass.”

John’s experience is far from isolated. Decades after graduation, elite law school degrees continue to open doors closed to graduates of less-favored schools. Prestige drives a huge proportion of law firm hiring, judicial clerkships, and coveted positions at the U.S. Department of Justice and within the legal academy.

A correction has been made to this story.

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