Elite Law Firms Prefer Pedigree to Paralegal Experience

You guys would probably like Annulkah (whose friends call her “Ann”…um, don’t write that down, I’m just guessing…), who’s trying to get a job as a lawyer at a top tier firm. She has done her time in the legal trenches, even working as a paralegal to gain experience and help pay her tuition at a local law school. She maintained an almost perfect GPA during her undergraduate and law school studies, was active in the Black Students Alliance, and managed her time so well that she was able to play on several intercollegiate sports teams.

Ann’s good people, obviously.

But it’s a good thing that hard-working multi-tasker Ann doesn’t really exist, because she apparently doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting hired to practice law at a top tier firm.


The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Lauren Rivera, Assistant Professor of Management & Organizations at Northwestern University, created several fictional resumes, including Ann’s – and supernova Julia’s to study the relationship between education and socio-economic attainment. Rivera submitted Ann and Julia’s resumes to managers at the most elite law firms in the country for review and comment. Julia is a Yale Law School graduate who is so exciting and accomplished that even a law firm recruiter can tell she’d be bored to death working in a posh law firm for two years – but she’s still a preferred candidate.

No recruiters at elite law firms thought Ann was worth a second look. They even called her boring. Crew team and the Olympics are hot; plain old intramurals are not. Building houses in Costa Rica and touring with a world famous orchestra are exciting; playing with the university marching band and volunteering with your local youth mentoring program are not. Climbing Mount Everest is recommended if you really want to make an impression.

So, Ann’s like you and me, not afraid of hard work, well-organized, living on a budget, and passionate about making a difference – and she doesn’t warrant a second look or an interview by top firms because she’s perceived as not being smart or savvy enough to get into or go to one of three super-elite and uber-desirable law schools, i.e.Yale, Harvard or Stanford. (Just those three? Pretty much.) Never mind whether she could afford to attend Yale, Harvard or Stanford, or had other reasons for choosing a local program, like family obligations or a great financial aid package or a scholarship. Never mind that Ann’s GPA is higher than Julia’s, and she has actually worked in a law firm and liked it.

Maybe Rivera should do a different study and submit Ann and Julia’s resumes to legal staffers who have worked more than two decades for successful lawyers and law firms. I bet the conclusions would be very different. Ann would be voted most likely to succeed in the real world and best lawyer to work for, while Julia would be voted most likely to waste a law firm’s time for two years and alienate lesser mortals, like the staff and clients who lack an equivalent pedigree.

Sources: ABA Journal; Chronicle of Higher Education

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