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New Law Firm Hiring Paradigms Look Beyond Pedigree

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on August 11, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The legal world is changing fast and there is evidence to indicate that some of that change is beginning to wear away the old practice of exclusively hiring top-ranking grads from the nation's most celebrated schools.

For law students and new lawyers from non-T14 schools, that means you might be able to wow your next employer and land a job. For firms looking to hire, it means you might want to start relying more heavily on factors that relate to legal success -- and those aren't always related to law school pedigree.

Legacy Law Firm Hiring: Old Paradigms Die Hard

For decades, hiring associates to join the ranks of the well-heeled law firm followed a similar pattern: grab up as many students at T14 OCIs as you can and fill the rest of the ranks with the top-performers from somewhat less stunning schools. Or post a listing online, demanding top grades from top schools and wait to see who comes your way.

The fact of the matter is that for many firms, this way of hiring will go on indefinitely. And it's not just because lawyers like it; it's because clients often want the Ivy League degree on the wall as well. So, that talented yet humble-background applicant never had a chance.

What Studies Are Indicating

School rank, class rank, and GPA are quickly becoming recognized as the less reliable determinants of an applicant's success -- at least outside of the law. At Google, for example, hiring decisions are informed by "big data" trends, trends that show that GPA is "worthless as a criteria for hiring." After looking through tens of thousands of interviews and eventual job performance, Google found that GPA and transcripts "don't predict anything."

Change Gonna Come?

At least a few larger law firms have decided to jump on the new-philosophy when it comes to hiring. Kirkpatrick Townsend, one of the nation's most recognized IP firms, has attempted to integrate means to find applicants with desired traits for resilience, teamwork, empathy and leadership. Their efforts have also broken the long standing belief that the applicant who looks great on paper will blow away the less rigorous interview. In one instance, during an offsite retreat -- a "great" applicant stood apart from the crowd texting on his phone. So much for that teamwork ranking.

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