Let’s suppose you’re one of the bright and lucky students who make it to the top of the class at your unranked law school. Let’s also suppose you decide not to transfer to a higher ranked school because of the
bribes and tuition discounts scholarships you were offered and you felt a sense of loyalty to the school that has done so much for you. You graduate cum laude or even magna cum laude with an editor spot in the flagship law review. You were also the fifth vice president of the Shitty Law School Student Bar Association and volunteered externed for a judge. This is a fine list of accomplishments you can put on your expensive resume paper.
Now we’ll compare you with below average student of Yale Law School (or you can substitute Harvard, Stanford and maybe two other top law schools). While there is no class rank in Yale, she was given hints that she was not federal appellate clerkship material so she did the absolute minimum to get through school. No law review, but she was a member of some minority law student association which was generally known as a
party networking group. She got a summer associate position at a low-end Biglaw firm but did minimal work there too.
For the purposes of simplicity, let’s pretend that you and the Yalie are the finalists for one competitive legal position in a practice area where both of you know nothing. With all other things being equal other than what I mentioned above, who do you think the employer will hire?
If you picked the Yalie, you win the internet prize. So why is this? Why should the slacker at Yale get a better job than the cream of the crop at Cooley Law, John Marshall Law, any Law School that has the word Loyola in it, Wiedner, or some other crappy law school?
First, most employers – especially smaller firms – don’t have the resources to research the students at every law school with a fine toothed comb. This is even becoming difficult at a regional level. So they take the easy way out – recruiting at only the top law schools. Of course, the cream of the crop at the top will have a justified sense of entitlement and demand high salaries. My sources have told me that in the last few years, hiring and negotiating with middle and low ranked students at top law schools have become significantly easier.
Second, students of top law schools are assumed to have established ground-floor relationships with people who are or are likely to be rich and famous and become potential high paying clients. I looked at the Facebook page of a friend who went to [Stanford Law] and a lot of his Facebook friends went to Stanford undergrad, Stanford Med, Stanford Business and a sprinkle of top undergrad and law schools. You, Mr. middling Law School graduate, on the other hand probably don’t have these connections. Most of your connections are average plebes with the one or two successes who you probably see only once per year. Most of your connections probably can’t afford a lawyer and will constantly demand an alumni “hook-up” or a friends and family discount.
Third, it is said that employers do not hire from low ranked schools because of malpractice liability issues. For example, if a top law firm puts two associates from a low ranked law school in charge of a major case and ends up losing, the client will question why the firm hired this lowly loser in the first place, especially since this loser is being billed out at $300 per hour. And because top law firms have really good malpractice insurance policies, they are easy targets for malpractice lawsuits. Even if these lawsuits are likely to fail, the negative publicity will be bad for business and that alone can be used to extort a large settlement. This sleazy excuse is total fucking bullshit for several reasons. If one passes the bar exam, he or she supposedly meets minimum competency levels to practice. Also, more bright students are going to presumably lower ranked schools due to generous tuition discounts.
So if you are the best of the best at your local JD factory, don’t think you have a leg up over the
T14 T5 slacker. At best you have a slightly better chance at getting a competitive position with all things being equal. You will either need to show a specialized knowledge in the area you plan to practice (even before you practice) or have potential business development skills.