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Why We Do Not Hire Law School Graduates from the Ivy League Schools

By Adam Leitman Bailey

In order to strive to become one of New York’s best real estate law firms we do not hire law school graduates from Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Columbia or any of the other traditional highest tier schools.

Our hires come from the top of the classes of the second, third or fourth tier law schools. We find these men and women we take under our wing to be more ambitious and more hungry to excel in the legal profession. They are hard-working and usually grew up with a middle or lower class upbringing. We do not hire our clients’ sons and daughters unless they demonstrate the same merits as any stranger to our family. The candidates we recruit are those who have been battle tested in one manner or another. They have been forced to compete against their peers to rank at the top of their law school and college classes.

Similar to Major League Baseball’s Farm System, each semester and summer, our firm selects a number of students to audition by working for a semester at our firm approximately 20 hours a week each semester or full-time during the summer. We only offer law school internships to students we believe could carry the potential to be partners. The best of these candidates are eventually offered a full time position at the firm and some have become partners.

As a smaller 15-year old law firm, with twenty-something attorneys, our clients come to us almost exclusively by referral and results-based reputation. We cannot impress based on the size of our firm, or a famous name from a 100 year tradition or a relationship with a Fortune 500 company that goes back 5 generations. The only thing we have to attract clients is our grit. To attract our clientele, we need to win our cases and close our deals and give better counsel than every other law firm. We know that every Fortune 500 general counsel that hires us cares so much about his or her company that he or she is willing to take a chance on a no name law firm that will be aggressive and may be the best possible choice for that company to win the case or close the deal. No general counsel will be fired for choosing the 100-year old law firm despite knowing that in most cases a lot of money will be spent on discovery and then the usual recommendation to settle no matter the merits of the case. Our law firm goes to trial practicing one type of law, real estate law, every week. That has always been a motivator for the big firm to recommend settlement instead of taking the chance of losing at trial–and losing that 75 year- old relationship.

To keep our clients, including the Fortune 500 companies, we need to impress at a greater level than they have ever seen before. And we are only as good as the attorneys we hire. That is why our training program and hiring process is crucial to our success. And by relying so heavily on our intern program as the source for our full time associates, we can take young men and women of amazing grit, determination, and talent and mold them into the kind of street fighter who can bring home the best possible results.

I admire the top ranking law schools of this country. They attract some of the smartest students from the top colleges and universities with the highest LSAT scores. Among our senior staff, we have Ivy League graduates. So why are we not hiring from the best credentialed law students in the world? First, the top students from these law schools have no interest in applying for a job at our firm. Secondly, many of these law schools either fail to rank their students or do not even grade them at all. (1) Ergo, the students have no incentive to work hard and learn when they have guaranteed summer associate positions and guaranteed job offers. Their students typically have no incentive to get the best grades in their classes. They also have no incentive to squeeze as much learning as possible out of the law school experience. Most importantly, the real world simulation of dealing with the pressures of a case or deal may be removed when the students do not need to compete for a job in a difficult market.

Third, no matter how mediocre the student’s performance, the statistics show that almost every large law firm offers all of the summer associates full time jobs. In order for the top law firms to attract the brightest students they must also show that in past years all of the candidates received job offers. Failure to get an offer practically requires an obscene action or complete breakdown such as at a firm social outing. Fourth, these students may become a United States Supreme Court Justice or a future President of the United States so political theory and international law and classes on capital punishment may be extremely important to them. However, we need our street lawyers ready for battle and taking trial practice, corporations, tax, civil procedure and any real estate and litigation course offered.

We want lawyers who have competed for three years for the top grades and at the same time who have learned topics relevant to our real estate practice. Competition breeds character and success and greater learning. Our young lawyers have competed with their peers and have a ranking to show for it. They excelled at their classes and took classes relevant to our actual practice of law. While the top law schools take guaranteed jobs based on the name of their school, our fall, spring and summer associates compete with each other for one or two coveted spots. The top law school students missed another opportunity to conquer failure, fear and to improve their talents under pressure with constant reviews and instruction.

We also attract the top students from the other schools because of our individualized revenue sharing system. All attorneys, no matter how many years out of law school, receive revenue based on a third of the hours they have billed and collected. This model attracts most motivated law students but especially the lower to middle class student who is not going to let anything stand in the way of becoming financially successful. These same students realize our model has the opportunity to pay much better than the salaries of the other firms.

As the legal profession changes and evolves, one of the mort important elements of our success is our ability to hire the best candidates based purely on merit, not aristocracy. For these reasons, the top tier law school students are simply not the best fit for our firm but I do look forward to appearing before them when they take the bench on the Supreme Court.

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