Anyone who has read my blog posts or asked my advice about law school has heard my pitch: it’s better for one’s prospects to get high grades than to go to a high-ranked school. A recent study shows I didn’t make this up. As reported in the WSJ Law Blog article “New Study: Forget the Rankings, Just Bring Home Straight A’s,” research by law professors Richard Sander and Jane Yakowitz found that
performance in law school – as measured by law school grades – is the most important predictor of career success. It is decisively more important than law school “eliteness.” . . . 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.
I’ll repeat long passage from the report, quoted in the Law Blog:
As an illustrative hypothetical, imagine an average student (GPA 3.25?3.5) at 47th ranked University of Florida . . . [W]e can predict how her earnings would be affected under various counterfactuals. If she had attended 20th ranked George Washington University, her grades likely would have slipped to the 2.75?3.0 range, and her salary would drop considerably (by 22%, all other factors held constant.) Even if she had managed to get a spot at 7th ranked UC Berkeley, where the tier premiums are highest, her grades likely would have fallen into the 2.5?2.75 range, and her salary would be 7% lower. On the other hand, if she had attended 80th ranked Rutgers, she probably could have improved her grades to land in the 3.5?3.75 range, and earned a 13% higher salary.
Why is this so? Sander and Yakowitz didn’t study the cause and speculate about the relationship between improved academic performance and self-confidence. A more plausible explanation to me is that every legal job market is filled with lawyers who did not attend “elite” schools. They know from personal experience that a student who graduates at the top of their class from a lower-ranked school is hard-working and smart, two ingredients in the recipe for a damn good lawyer.