Law Schools

Law Prof Predicts a ‘New Hierarchy’ of Law Schools

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A law professor known for his studies of the legal profession is predicting a “new hierarchy” of law schools will emerge, one that will be based on educational quality and connection to the legal profession rather than student academic credentials.

The top law schools admit students with higher LSAT scores, notes Indiana University law professor Bill Henderson. But academic credentials are not a reliable basis for hiring decisions in an environment where law firms are competing for market share, Henderson writes in the National Jurist.

“Sure, lawyers need to be smart,” he writes. “But in this more competitive environment, they also need to be personable, collaborative, entrepreneurial, service oriented, and interested in contributing to the collective welfare of the law firm.”

Henderson says there is little empirical evidence that hiring lawyers with marginally higher test scores puts law firms at a competitive advantage. He cites his own research to illustrate.

In 2007 and 2008, 46 percent of all new associates in the nation’s 100 largest law firms came from a top 14 law school. But during the same period, only 39 percent of lawyers promoted to partner came from one of the top 14.

The numbers are similar in the nation’s largest companies. In 2009, only 35 percent of general counsels for Fortune 500 companies had graduated from a top 14 school. “This suggests that the advantage of higher test scores and academic pedigree diminishes rather than compounds over time—at least for partnership or general counsel positions,” he says.

Henderson also cites a study by Marjorie Shultz and Shelton Zedeck of the University of California at Berkeley that identified 26 factors associated with successful lawyers. No more than eight of the success factors were correlated with academic credentials. Then there were the negative correlations. For law students, undergraduate GPA was negatively correlated with practical judgment, ability to see the world through the eyes of others, and developing relationships.

“Obviously, beyond intelligence as applied to legal doctrine, many of the attributes needed for success in the ‘new normal’ legal economy are not attributes emphasized in law school,” he writes. “Virtually all law professors were vetted based on a world where academic credentials really mattered. As a group, law professors are ill-equipped for the changes that are occurring.”

Henderson has formed a new company called Lawyer Metrics that analyzes the qualities shared by successful lawyers and helps law firms with hiring and retention.

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