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Study: The Better the School, the Less Happy the Associate

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  • Study: The Better the School, the Less Happy the Associate


    The economy of the last 16 months has forced law firms to rethink a lot of their old ways of doing things vis-a-vis their associates. Firms have reconsidered salary structures, embraced new training techniques and reshaped evaluation processes. They’ve also, of course, taken the axe to hundreds upon hundreds of the equity-less masses.

    But one thing they haven’t changed: whom they hire. Firms have tinkered with the formula at the margins, but they still largely flock to the top national schools and top schools in their area, and look to snatch up the students on law review and with the best grades — categories which often share a lot of overlap. If anything, given a reduction in hiring needs, the firms have become even more discerning with their hiring over the months.

    But is this strategy — going for the best and brightest at the most gilded institutions — a mistake? The authors of a recent study think so.

    Ronit Dinovitzer, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto, and Bryan Garth, the dean of the Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, tracked the careers of a sample of 5,000 lawyers who began practice in 2000.

    Their findings were two-fold. First, as described in the September issue of the American Lawyer (link not available), they found that “new lawyers working for firms of more than 250 lawyers are less satisfied with their jobs than their counterparts in smaller firms.” Um, okay. Frankly, were this all they found, we wouldn’t be writing about their study at all.

    But they also found this: “that graduates of the most selective schools are the less satisfied with their jobs at large firms, while graduates of less selective schools are relatively more satisfied.”

    The rationale behind the finding is interesting. Write the authors:
    Why are elite graduates dissatisfied with these jobs? Part of the answer is that graduates of elite law schools are groomed to expect success . . . . [The] data shows that the graduates of elite law schools come to the job market with different career expectations than graduates of nonelite schools. Among other things, they are more likely to have considered careers in business consulting or investment banking. . . . Interviews with lawyers in this group reveal that they do not want to work the long hours generally required at law firms, and they especially do not want to put in those hours patiently for ten years to compete for the partnership prize. This is a relatively privileged group that expects to do well in life. For them, the corporate law firm apprenticeship is something to put on a resume and move on.

    On the other hand, write Dinovitzer and Garth:
    Students from less selective schools have a different disposition. They know they had to work harder simply to attain those positions, and they realize that their options are more limited. . . . Thus, for a segment of students from the lower echelons of the law school heirarchy, the large corporate law firm job is a coveted reward for hard work and is not to be squandered. . . .

    The conclusion to all this, write the authors, isn’t one that too many law firms are likely to run out and adopt: hire more lawyers from nonelite schools.
    The obvious point is to hire more law graduates from outside the elite law schools. Because of their backgrounds, they will be hungrier and more willing to make the sacrifices necessary to gain access to partnerships. . . . [L]aw firms are always going to need driven young lawyers who are committed to doing what it takes to make partner. We suggest that they are most likely to find these sorts of lawyers outside the elite law schools.”

    LBers, any thoughts? We think the proposal makes some intuitive sense. But of course, there’s an argument that getting the one brilliant kid from Stanford or Yale who works her tail off and becomes a rainmaking partner is worth putting up with all the others who don’t want to put in the work to become partner. And you might not get that stream of superstars (even if it’s only one or two per year) by hiring at fourth-tier schools. We’re not sure. Any thoughts?

  • #2
    Re: Study: The Better the School, the Less Happy the Associate

    This is natural thing if you have better school to study then your carrier is more secure.


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