U.S. News and World Report is out with its annual law school rankings list. Should you consider these rankings when hiring new associates or staff members?
The U.S. News rankings are important for many potential law students -- and many more law school admissions officers. However, for managers at small and midsized law firms, law school rankings have been known to affect hiring decisions as well.
There are different schools of thought when it comes to using law school rankings in the hiring process at your firm. Here are a few things to consider:
School Rankings Don't Matter, People Do
Sure, there's built-in prestige when it comes to hiring attorneys with degrees from Stanford or Harvard, but what really matters is how the new hire will benefit your firm.
From your own experience, you should know that law school rankings don't mean much unless you're vying for a job that only hires graduates from a top-tier school. Plus, regardless of what law school a candidate attended, all students must pass the same bar exam in order to practice.
What you should consider when hiring a candidate is if their experience in law school translates well to your firm's practice. For example, let's say you have a criminal defense practice and you're deciding between two potential associates:
- Candidate A went to a third-tier law school, but interned with the District Attorney's office and took all the criminal law courses and clinics offered at her school.
- Candidate B went to a top-tier school, but only has in-house and transactional internship experience.
Who's the better choice? From a practical standpoint, Candidate A seems more ready to hit the ground running than the other candidate from a top-ranked law school.
If You Really Want to Use Rankings...
If a potential hire's alma mater is truly an important consideration for you, there are other sources other than the U.S. News rankings to consider.
For example, National Jurist has honored 60 law schools that deliver quality practical training to their students. The list is based on the number of clinic positions offered by the school, the number of field placements or externships per enrollment, and the number of simulation courses per enrollment, according to National Jurist.
So you might want to see how the U.S. News rankings compare with the National Jurist honorees, because law grads who have more practical training in school potentially means you won't have to spend as much time training them on the job.
The needs of your firm are far more important than the desire to have a Top 10 law school grad working for you, so use the law school rankings sparingly when making hiring decisions.
Editor's Note, March 8, 2016: This post was first published in March 2014. It has since been updated.
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