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School Rank and GPA Aren’t the Best Predictors of BigLaw Success

Posted Oct 16, 2008 7:39 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Updated: Law school rank and grade point average aren’t the best predictors of success at large law firms, according to a study of more than 1,300 associates from one firm.

Law school rank and GPA were only moderately predictive of success, the study found. In general, one of the study’s authors, Ron Paquette, tells the ABA Journal, “The Harvard attorneys do not perform any better than those at the 30th-ranked law school.”

The study was conducted at a top 25 law firm trying to combat high associate attrition rates, according to a summary by the authors, consultants from Kerma Partners and Redwood, a unit of LexisNexis. The aim was to identify lawyer recruits who have the required educational credentials as well as the “stuff” to thrive at the law firm.

The study defined success as longer tenure at the firm, higher productivity, and being a good cultural fit, based on an evaluation by a human resources staffer.

The study identified 12 factors—Paquette wouldn't reveal them all—that are better predictors of success. Paquette, however, did identify one of them—participation in group hobbies and collegiate-level athletics. Another predictor of success, he said, was doing well in specific law school classes. He did not disclose the subjects.

The study also identified attributes that were detrimental to success, and some were “counterintuitive,” the study summary says. Paquette disclosed one of them—foreign language proficiency. He says the study recommended that the law firm should not give “extra credit” to those job-seekers who can speak another language.

Paquette and the other study author, James Bergin of Kerma Partners, couldn't go into details because of the proprietary nature of the study.

The study compared lawyers at the firm who had four or more of the success attributes with those who had three or less. Lawyers in the group with more success attributes were 15 percent more productive and stayed more than twice as long at the firm.

Paquette, who recently left his position at Redwood to join Dominion Digital, says he’s not surprised by the findings. Based on his experience in corporate America, he believes attributes such as an ability to adapt and get along with people contribute to success more than technical expertise.

“When you look at people skills, it really comes down to working well on a team,” he says. “In reality, the best performing teams are the ones that learn to get along and leverage each other's skills.”

Bergin told the ABA Journal that the success factors, when considered as a whole, indicate leadership qualities. "After we came up with this list of the attributes of interest, we tried to make sense of them as a whole," he says. "Generally we used the term 'leader' to summarize what all of these attributes put together."

Paquette cautions that the study examined the attributes of lawyers who were already “the cream of the crop.”

“There’s no one in here who got bad grades,” he says. The study simply showed that those with top grades aren't much more likely to succeed than those with simply good grades. “If someone got a 2.0, I still would not hire them,” he adds, because the low grades could indicate low motivation.

Hat tip to Legal Blog Watch.

Updated at 8:50 a.m. to include comments from Ron Paquette. Updated again at 11:25 a.m. to include comments from James Bergin.

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