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Does it matter which law school you went to?

By September 19, 2003Uncategorized

Sherry Fowler has a post that examines the limitations that are imposed on graduates of the ‘lesser law schools.’ She’s not alone in asking this question. Alex Wellen’s recently published book chronicles his effort to deal with the stigma of having not graduated from a “Tier 1 Law School,” even though he did very well in law school at Temple (“Tier 2”) and had an engineering degree from Rutgers.

The ranking of law schools into “tiers” was the idea of U.S. News & World Report, which first started this process in 1987. Not surprisingly, these rankings are used by some people to make poor assessments about law schools, and about lawyers. I’ve met a lot of amazing lawyers who didn’t go to top-tier law schools, and I’ve met even more who went to elite schools and were incapable of making a persuasive argument in court.

The practice of law is more art than science, and there is no algorithm that can be sweepingly applied to the difficult decisions faced by lawyers and judges. We are, after all, just people, and we feel as much as we think. Proper judgment incorporates both feeling and thinking, while poor judgment usually just uses rote assessments that can be applied to situations like butter to bread.

It will be interesting to see what Sherry’s outlook is years from now, after she’s observed a wider cast of legal characters. Maybe she’ll abandon the practice of law like Alex, or maybe she’ll write her own book of experiences. In a sense she’s already started.

Both her story and Alex’s story are worth reading, and their observations about the practice of law should not be something that only young lawyers are interested in.

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  • Phil says:

    In reading these blogs on law, pedigree and snobbery, some things seem to jump out at me. I may be way off on these points, and please correct me if Im wrong. 1) Lawyers from lesser ranked law schools seem to be resentful of their higher ranked counterparts. 2) The general attitude is that top grads of “elite” and “tier 1” law schools are usually inept at the practice of law.

    As to the 1st contention, like I said before, I maybe way off, and if I am, I am very receptive to criticism. As to #2, I find this view particularly ridiculous. Of course, we all know that generalizations of this kind are usually false and propelled by other motives.

    In any case, if one were to concede to these views; given the harsh realities of law firm views toward pedigree and their general perpetuation of this sort of snobbish regime, why wouldn’t an ambitious undergrad strive to get into a higher ranked school? Personally, I think it would be stupid, if given the chance, for a student to pass up such an opportunity.

  • James says:

    I have worked with top graduates of “higher ranked” law schools and have been impressed at their inability to find the law. Even if it was written in huge letters across their office walls chances are slim they could figure it out. My experience has been that they are untrainable in the arts of research and that the bottom of the class from their respective law schools was more skilled in the arts of research and argument.

    I do have one praise for the tier system. It gives a lot of lawyers inflated egos. Egos which have helped me defeat my estemed colleges of the bar over and over again.

  • Patrick says:

    The worst part of the ranking system is that it has five tiers, rather than say “most competitive”/Regional/State. Are the bottoms tier law schools really 5 times worse? Are their students 5 times denser? I doubt it. And being accepted to a very high tier school is a function of college grades + LSAT scores. Ever know any dull grinds with great gpas but who didn’t seem “all that clever”?

    Just food for thought.

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