Grades Outweigh School’s Eliteness

An interesting article was sent to me from Professor Pam Armstrong, a lawyering professor at Albany Law School.  It cites findings that grades in law school are a more accurate predictor of career success than the eliteness of the school. The full text of the article is posted at the ABA Journal’s website. The research was also picked up by the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog.

Professors Richard Sander (University of California, Los Angeles), and Jane Yakowitz (visiting professor at Brooklyn Law School) concluded that the old addage telling students to go to the best law school is not necessarily accurate. “Law school grades are the important predictor of a lawyer’s career success—in fact they are ‘decisively more important’ than the eliteness of the school attended.”

They point out that the research should affect law school “trade-ups”. “Since the dominant conventional wisdom says that law school prestige is all‐important, and since students who ‘trade‐up’ in school prestige generally take a hit to their school performance, we think prospective students are getting the wrong message.”

The study consisted of analyzing data from 40 public law schools, and the professors found that students still tend to choose the most elite school. But the American Bar Foundation’s After the JD study of lawyers who entered the bar in 2000, indicated “that the salary boost for achieving high grades more than makes up for the salary depreciation associated with attending a lower‐ranked school. The study also found that lawyers who left law school with the lowest grades felt the least secure about their jobs.”

It appears that the “best law school” theory was accurate at one time, but has since lost its importance. “Two other studies of lawyers practicing in Chicago in the mid-1970s and mid-1990s found that law school eliteness was associated with higher incomes in the 1970s, but that had changed in the 1990s, when class rank more accurately predicted earning power.”

Furthermore, “while law students tend to come from upper-middle and upper class backgrounds, social status now appears to not have a role in shaping grads’ careers.”

As for why grades are so important “Sander told the Wall Street Journal he doesn’t know why grades are so important, but he was willing to speculate. ‘It could have to do with psychological factors, a level of confidence you gain from doing well that serves you well not only in school but afterward.'”

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