Building a Better Legal Profession :: The Old Blog

answering questions from stanford students by andrewbruck
October 4, 2007, 10:28 am
Filed under: faq, Law reform

on monday, we posted throughout stanford law school a series of green-and-white posters filled with law firm employment data. these posters summarize the findings from our first major report, and we decided to do a limited release on stanford’s campus to gauge reaction and to solicit feedback before doing a full-scale press conference later this month.

well, the response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. we’d like to thank all of the students and professors who have shared their warm comments with us.

we thought it would be helpful to briefly explain our project and answer the most common questions we’ve received.

q: uh, what are all these posters doing around the law school?
a: these charts rank large new york law firms by a variety of different metrics — the average number of hours billed by associates, the percentages of different minority groups at the firm, and the rates of pro bono participation.

q: where’d you get this information?
a: all of it is publicly available at the national association of law placement (n.a.l.p.) asks firms to self-report this data in an annual survey. but n.a.l.p. doesn’t do a good job of presenting the information. so, starting in july, we went through each page, copied the data into an excel spreadsheet, and then ranked firms by these various metrics.

q: why doesn’t n.a.l.p. do this?
a: no idea. but as far as we can tell, we’re the first people ever to present this information in such a user-friendly way.

q: didn’t it take you a long time to collect all this data?
a: yes.

q: so why’d you do it?
a: because students have a right to know as much information as possible before they decide where to work after law school. you wouldn’t buy a car without reading consumer reports, and you shouldn’t sign up for a firm unless you know how it compares to others. there’s a market for law students, and efficient markets thrive on information. we’re providing information in the hopes of creating savvier consumers.

q: but if i want to know how good a firm is, can’t i just check vault? they already rank firms.
a: sure, but they provide pretty limited information. vault ranks firms according to prestige and salary. we’re not denying that these are factors to consider. but we thought it’d be useful to have some other criteria available when students are making a decision.

q: doesn’t vault also rank according to diversity?
a: they do. but it’s unreliable and entirely subjective. vault creates their diversity rankings by sending a questionnaire to associates and asking them whether their firm is friendly to minorities. (vault explains this in the fine print on page 10 of its 2007 “top 100 firms” guide.) the company doesn’t include any hard employment numbers in their calculations. we thought students would be better served by knowing exactly how many minorities the firms actually hire and retain.

q: so now what? what’s the point of all this?
a: we created building a better legal organization in the hopes of encouraging law firms to reform their practices. we think the current model at large firms — one based on high salaries, but even higher billable hour expectations — doesn’t just hurt young associates, it hurts the profession as a whole. by working associates around the clock, the big firms pressure their lawyers to neglect other aspects of their lives, including family, pro bono practice, and outside interests. as a result, firms and their clients lose some of their best attorneys.

q: but what do we have to do with this? we’re not even at a firm yet.
a: that’s exactly the point. as law students, we still have leverage to encourage reform. firms recognize that students at top schools have an array of choices about where to work after graduation. if students begin choosing firms based on their billable hour expectations, pro bono participation rates, and demographic diversity — rather than simply the firms’ prestige or compensation packages — then these employers will be forced to improve on all of these additional metrics. it’s simple economics. we create market pressure for reform.

q: it seems like you guys are pretty anti-firm.
a: not at all. in fact, the CEO/chairman of orrick just released a statement praising our work. the extraordinarily high attrition rates suffered by firms hurt their bottom line. we want to help firms move away from the “billable hour” model of charging clients — as the ABA has already recognized, this model encourages inefficiency and unnecessarily long hours at the office. we’re trying to fix precisely those issues which drive out so many young associate. but firms won’t change on their own. we’re providing the initial energy necessary overcome their inertia.

q: yeah, but neither of the organization’s presidents have ever worked at a firm.
a: this is true. but most of our 130 members have, and plan to return to firms upon graduation. they chose not to publicize their participation for fear of retribution. also, why should it matter? the editors at consumer reports haven’t driven every car they review in their magazine. we’re just here to provide students with greater access to information before they make job decisions.

q: i’ll admit it’s an interesting project. but right now you only have data available for new york city. what about other markets?
a: we did new york first because it’s the largest legal market in the country. we wanted to get feedback from students before we proceeded to other geographic regions. but we’re in the process of collecting data for washington, dc; chicago; boston; northern california; and southern california and we plan to post it online next week.

q: how can i get involved?
a: we need all the help we can get. not only are we busy collecting data, but we are also working with firms and the media to publicize our efforts. here are two things you can do:

1. add your support by joining our organization. it’s easy: just subscribe to our list-serv by clicking here. don’t worry, we won’t tell your firm.
2. email us at to learn how to you can help.

thanks for reading. we’re genuinely committed to providing a useful service to other students, and we hope you’ll contact us with questions, suggestions, concerns, or criticisms.

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