A widely-used tactic by prestigious law firms is to recruit and hire new lawyers from only a handful of the same “elite” law schools year after year. By employing this “core” campus recruiting strategy, is it possible that these respected law practices are actually overlooking talented and potentially-productive new attorneys when they graduate?
In the case of core (also known as “target”) law school recruiting tendencies, that very common practice may be flawed with respect to landing some of the best, and ultimately higher achieving attorneys for your firm.
Core Campus Recruiting Exists for these Reasons
Within an established law firm, also called an Elite Professional Service (EPS), attorney candidates are typically vetted and hired under the direction of one or more partners that serve as members of a team or committee, along with other key decision makers (KDMs).
The new attorney hiring team at a larger law firm compiles a “grocery list” of preferred or core, law schools they wish to target. That core recruiting list typically only includes 3 to 5 schools, for example – Yale, Harvard, Columbia and Stanford. Respected lawyers tend to gravitate towards law students from the schools they themselves graduated from. Based on this factor, they perceive these candidates to be more elite than other equally-worthy candidates who graduate from less-recognized universities.
Additionally, the EPS’ hiring team earmarks another 5 to 10 law schools as secondary attorney hiring sources. Those two exclusive lists together comprise their annual new hire recruitment focus roster. And, for most of the EPS law firms, that’s about as far as their recruiting network expands from year to year.
In addition to the aforementioned EPS recruiting team members’ favoritism towards their alma maters, there are other biases that affect a hiring committee as they seek out coveted 2nd or 3rd year law school candidates:
- The prestige of the law school the candidate attends. A university’s professional reputation equals its ability to effectively turn out new lawyers. If a school’s alumni are globally powerful and influential they turn out better attorneys. There is a correlation between the age of a school’s charter and its prestige.
- Connections. Graduates from noteworthy law schools possess elite family and social connections which will translate, once they are hired, into attracting new and wealthy clients for the EPS firm. The larger the endowment and other institutional funds are at a school, the more successful and connected the alumni, including law graduates, from the university are.
- The Elite law schools use applicant screening and admission standards that are very similar to those of prestigious law firms.
- Law students with the “look” and personality most befitting the culture at an EPS firm will also be high-achievers and revenue producers.
It seems pretty surprising that these criteria are often times the key deciding factors in determining what handful of college campuses the elite law firm KDMs across the country actually recruit, but it’s true. This recruitment principle focused on the “1%ers” is not just limited to the legal profession, as other EPS sectors like management consulting, investment banking, technology, and finance do the same. Let’s now investigate the recruitment practices utilized on core campuses during the process.
Recruitment Tactics Employed on Core Campuses Require Lots of Capital
Okay, the firm’s new talent hiring committee has its core recruiting list of schools compiled, and it’s time to “get the party started.” Prestigious law firms then start campaigns to recruit law students and spend millions of dollars annually at the more prestigious universities. Based upon the EPS committee’s biased focus, profiled law recruits are then approached and later wined and dined. The EPS recruitment methods include:
- Throwing lavish cocktail receptions, dinner parties and other social events
- Conducting numerous interviews with candidates to “groom” them for future ones
- Coaching them on how to better speak and look in accordance with elite firm culture
- Educating the law students on necessary professional skills they might need
- Flying in well-known law school alumni to meet with the candidate, including those from the EPS firm doing the recruiting, or other “famous” attorneys from the legal profession
Throughout this core recruitment process, centered around only maybe 3 to 5 prestigious law schools, a lot of the EPS firm’s capital is invested. Bear in mind that there are also another 5 to 10 secondary target schools on the search team’s laundry list, where similar recruitment techniques take place, funded on a much smaller scale.
But are these core recruiting methods really effective, and by EPS law firms concentrating their talent search resources at a handful of elite schools, are they honestly reeling in the “best and brightest” new graduates? The evidence may indicate that they are in fact not, while ignoring some of the better new law candidates each year; many of who go on to be solid revenue generators for the firms that do employ them. Let’s take a closer look.
Talented Lawyers Oftentimes Come from Less-Prestigious Law Schools
According to U.S. News and World Report, a publication that ranks the best law schools in America each year, there are currently 206 accredited institutions. EPS law firms, as has been revealed, only target and recruit a small fraction of those. According to several legal industry studies, many lawyers recruited from the elite law schools don’t pan out too well in the real world, and fall behind their less-prestigious attorney counterparts, many of whom graduated from non-core recruiting campuses like the Universities of Alabama, Minnesota and Boston College.
In fact, many of the less-prestigious law schools turn out lawyers who are successful, productive and high-achievers for their firms. So, why did these talented attorneys enroll at a non-elite law school in the first place? Law school follow-up studies have determined there may have been one or more determining factors involved in their school preference, such as:
- A less-affluent socioeconomic background which led to attending a less-expensive law school
- Having lower grades in their pre-law curriculum, and/or in high school
- Scoring lower on the LSAT
- Not having family insider or networking “connections” to help them get accepted to a more elite university
- Desiring to enroll at a law school closer-to-home for personal reasons
- Wanting to graduate from a university that a family member, such as a parent, also did
- Coming from a lower-class, inner city neighborhood while growing up
- Being of a certain race, ethnicity, or being stereotyped for another reason, as more elite law schools tend to admit white, affluent students first
Furthermore, graduates from elite law schools have been found to be far less content within two years of getting hired by an EPS firm, and tend to move on. That means, for the prestigious firm involved, that the entire recruitment-to-hire placement process has been non cost-effective for the practice, especially when you realize the investment made throughout. Ouch! And, might there be a more accurate, non-biased way to identify and recruit the top law student candidates, along with experienced lawyers, to your firm? There is, and the answer might surprise you.
Legal Recruiters Understand what Makes Successful Lawyers Tick
Legal recruitment firms, and the headhunters there, are an often-underutilized, by EPS talent search and recruiting teams, professional resource. The better legal recruiters constantly work with successful attorney candidates, and through that detailed process have come to learn which characteristics lead to a high-achieving lawyer, as opposed to ones that don’t. They would be the first to tell you that the prestige of an attorney’s law school doesn’t necessarily coincide with their work ethic, revenue-producing capabilities and success.
In fact, core recruiting practices are probably the last thing on the minds of the best legal recruiters out there, and for many good reasons. Having said that, legal headhunters are experts with respect to identifying, screening and placing talented lawyers with established and elite law firms all over the country. This is in part accomplished due to the better recruitment firms’ vast legal industry insider and networking connections. So, if you are involved with an EPS law firm, when next year’s law school recruitment season rolls around, you may want to seek out some “coaching” advice from a good legal recruiting firm.