Looking to Work at a Top Law Firm? Here are the best schools to get you there

Jennifer King Logan Written by: Jennifer King Logan
Taylor Nichols Research and Analysis by: Taylor Nichols
Published: March 10, 2022

Key Insights:

  • University of Chicago is the top law school for a job at the highest grossing firms
  • Cornell University is the only Ivy League to make the top 5
  • Three public universities — UT Austin, UVA, and UM-Ann Arbor — all ranked well for top firm employment

Does an Ivy League law degree still carry the cache many people think it does? As student debt skyrockets and the cost of going to law school continues to rise, it's critical for aspiring law students to understand how to maximize their investment in a college education. Many prospective law students want to know which law school will give them the best chance at a job with a prestigious firm where they can work on high-profile cases and find opportunities for advancement.

To find out which law schools send the highest rate of students to top firms, we collected real alumni data and analyzed 50 notable law schools in the U.S. in terms of employment outcomes. Our research identified the top 10 schools that place the greatest percentage of graduates at the highest-grossing law firms.

Top universities for a job at a prestigious law firm

School

Median Salary*
Median Debt

University of Chicago Law School
Percent of alumni at top law firms: 10.93%

Graph of University of Chicago Law School Alumni Median Salary and Debt

University of Virginia School of Law
Percent of alumni at top law firms: 10.39%

Graph of University of Virginia School of Law Alumni Median Salary and Debt

Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law
Percent of alumni at top law firms: 9.04%

Graph of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law Alumni Median Salary and Debt

University of Michigan Law School
Percent of alumni at top law firms: 7.97%

Graph of University of Michigan Law School Alumni Median Salary and Debt

Cornell Law School
Percent of alumni at top law firms: 7.86%

Graph of Cornell Law School Alumni Median Salary and Debt

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School
Percent of alumni at top law firms: 7.85%

Graph of University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School Alumni Median Salary and Debt

Columbia Law School
Percent of alumni at top law firms: 7.48%

Graph of Columbia Law School Alumni Median Salary and Debt

The University of Texas School of Law
Percent of alumni at top law firms: 6.33%

Graph of The University of Texas School of Law Alumni Median Salary and Debt

Notre Dame Law School
Percent of alumni at top law firms: 6.12%

Graph of Notre Dame Law School Alumni Median Salary and Debt

Duke University School of Law
Percent of alumni at top law firms: 6.06%

Graph of Duke University School of Law Alumni Median Salary and Debt

*Median salary and debt data is for the first year after graduation. Data is from the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard.

Notable Findings

Our study revealed several interesting findings that may differ from common perceptions of the most prestigious and widely respected law schools. Only four of the top 10 schools are private Ivy League universities, and Yale and Harvard did not make the cut.

By contrast, three public universities — the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia, and the University of Texas - Austin — ranked very well among the schools we studied.

Most of the universities that made their way to the head of our list, however, are well-known for their strong law schools. Our data analysis showed the University of Chicago and the University of Virginia are the leading universities for graduates seeking a job at one of the highest-grossing law firms in the U.S.

The Top Ten Schools By the Numbers

1.

University of Chicago Law School

10.93% of graduates working a top-grossing firm

Median Salary: 173,850

Median Debt: 156,930

The University of Chicago is the best law school for a job at the highest-grossing firms in America, with nearly 11% of graduates working in one of the top 10 ranked firms.

UChicago Law is also the best school for a job at Kirkland & Ellis, Sidley Austin, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Just over 3% of the graduating classes from 2015 through 2021 went to work for Kirkland, the school's largest single employer, for a total of 77 alumni.

Close to 2% of graduates went to Sidley and another 2% went to Skadden, the highest rate for both firms out of all the schools in this study.

2.

University of Virginia School of Law

10.93% of graduates working a top-grossing firm

Median Salary: 175,650

Median Debt: 157,870

With more than 10% of graduates landing jobs at one of the top 10 firms, the University of Virginia School of Law ranks second for top firm employment. UVA Law is also the best school for finding a job at Latham & Watkins and Hogan Lovells.

Latham & Watkins, the second highest-grossing law firm in the U.S., is the top employer for this school, hiring nearly 2% of alumni. Hogan Lovells hired an additional 1.35% of graduates. Collectively, Kirkland, Latham, and Skadden hired a total of 151 graduates.

3.

Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law

9.04% of graduates working a top-grossing firm

Median Salary: 176,090

Median Debt: 138,070

Northwestern University's Pritzker School of Law is ranked third on our list for top firm employment with over 9% of graduates at America's highest grossing firms.

Kirkland is the largest employer for Northwestern Pritzker Law graduates, hiring 117 alumni. Other top employers include Sidley Austin and Latham. Together the firms account for 103 alumni.

Northwestern alumni see a high payoff for their degree, earning a median of $38,020 more than they owe in their first year out of college.

4.

University of Michigan Law School

7.97% of graduates working a top-grossing firm

Median Salary: 145,240

Median Debt: 141,510

Nearly 8% of alumni of the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor work at one of the highest grossing firms. Kirkland hired the highest number of graduates at 74.

Other top employers include Latham and Sidley, hiring a total of 69 alumni from the 2015-2021 graduating classes.

Although alumni median debt is comparable to that of other schools on this list, Michigan Law may be a better choice for those who want to remain in-state after graduation given Michigan's low cost of living.

5.

Cornell Law School

7.86% of graduates working a top-grossing firm

Median Salary: 179,150

Median Debt: 139,930

Cornell Law ranks fifth for top firm employment with just under 8% of graduates working at one of the highest-grossing firms. Among the largest employers of Cornell alumni are Latham, Kirkland, and White & Case. Together, the three firms hired a total of 100 alumni.

Cornell edged out Columbia as the best school for getting a job at White & Case. The firm hired 1.02% of Cornell graduates, compared to 1.01% of Columbia graduates.

Cornell graduates report the best median salary to median debt ratio of any school on our list, making Cornell Law a great option for return on investment one year out of school. Graduates earned a median of $39,220 more in their first year out of school than what they owed after graduating.

6.

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

7.85% of graduates working a top-grossing firm

Median Salary: 179,670

Median Debt: 150,630

The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School ranks sixth with 7.85% of graduates at a top firm. The university is a top choice for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, which hired Penn Law alumni more often than graduates from any other university.

Top employers for Penn Law graduates include Kirkland & Ellis, Latham & Watkins, and Skadden, which hired a total of 145 alumni of graduating classes from 2015 through 2021.

7.

Columbia Law School

7.48% of graduates working a top-grossing firm

Median Salary: 185,760

Median Debt: 177,000

Columbia Law School ranks seventh with 7.48% of alumni at a top legal firm. While Columbia graduates have the highest median debt of the schools on this list, they also earn the highest median salaries one year out of college at $185,760.

Top employers include Skadden, which hired the most Columbia graduates by number at 82, as well as Latham (73) and Kirkland (64).

8.

The University of Texas School of Law

6.33% of graduates working a top-grossing firm

Median Salary: 106,120

Median Debt: 105,550

UT Austin is ranked eighth on our list with 6.33% of graduates at a top firm. Top employers for Texas Law graduates include Kirkland & Ellis and Latham & Watkins, which hired a total of 86 alumni.

The Austin campus is also the best school for a job at Baker McKenzie, the fourth highest-grossing law firm, which hired 0.5% of alumni.

Although Texas Law graduates tend to earn less than alumni of other schools on this list, they also owe the least. Texas Law graduates have a median debt of $105,550. This is 60% of the median debt reported by Columbia alumni, who have the highest debt for any school on our list.

9.

Notre Dame Law School

6.12% of graduates working a top-grossing firm

Median Salary: 95,300

Median Debt: 126,960

Notre Dame ranks ninth with 6.12% of graduates finding work at a high-grossing law firm. Notre Dame Law's top employers are Jones Day, which hired 25 alumni, and Kirkland & Ellis, which hired 24.

Notre Dame Law alumni report the lowest median salaries of any school on our list. Although they also report one of the lower median debt rates, alumni still owe a median of $31,660 more than they earn in their first year out of school.

However, Indiana's low cost of living may make Notre Dame a better option for students who live in-state after graduation.

10.

Duke University School of Law

6.06% of graduates working a top-grossing firm

Median Salary: 168,300

Median Debt: 139,960

At North Carolina's Duke University, just over 6% of alumni found work at top law firms. Top employers for Duke Law alumni include Latham & Watkins, Kirkland & Ellis, and White & Case. A total of 102 graduates work at one of these three firms.

Duke alumni have one of the most favorable ratios of median salary to median debt of the schools on this list. Overall, they earned $28,340 more in their first year after graduation than what they owed.

Other Notable Schools

Neither Harvard nor Georgetown University made it into the top 10 on our list, which may seem somewhat surprising given their prestige in law education. While both schools have high numbers of graduates working for a top firm overall, they also graduate more students per year than most schools on this list. Therefore, the percentage of alumni who find work at a top firm would be lower.

Although this is true, graduates of Harvard and Georgetown showcase some impressive career outcomes. Georgetown has the highest number of alumni working for a top firm with 477, and ties with Harvard for the most graduates employed at White & Case (54). Georgetown also has the highest number of graduates working for DLA Piper (25), Hogan Lovells (47), Jones Day (34), Latham (106), and Morgan Lewis (28).

A Different View

Our quest to identify the law schools that place the highest rate of graduates at the top law firms by revenue generated some surprising results. Schools we might expect to rank in the top 10 — Yale, Harvard, and Stanford, for example — did not make the cut as they were edged out by schools such as UT Austin and UVA.

Midwestern schools such as Notre Dame and the University of Michigan typically don't rank well for median alumni salary. However, their standing on this list suggests that graduates of these programs may actually have better odds of getting hired at prestigious firms than alumni of familiar schools.

Looking through this lens, prospective law students hoping to find employment with a major firm may take other universities into account in their decision making process. While the most prestigious law schools in the country are often believed to provide the best career outcomes, this list highlights the fact that many smaller name universities can offer notable job prospects without the high price tag of an Ivy League education.

Methodology

To determine which schools' alumni find work at the top law firms, we looked at two key sources of information. The first was LinkedIn alumni data, which we used to find employment outcomes for alumni of 50 prominent law schools in the U.S. We limited our study to graduates from 2015 through 2021. Here is a complete list of the schools we examined.

To find the number of graduates working for the top 10 highest-grossing law firms in the country, we turned to the 2021 Am Law 100 rankings, which evaluates law firms by gross revenue. The top 10 highest-grossing firms are:

  • Kirkland & Ellis ($4.83 billion)
  • Latham & Watkins ($4.33 billion)
  • DLA Piper ($3.13 billion)
  • Baker McKenzie ($2.9 billion)
  • Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom ($2.66 billion)
  • Sidley Austin ($2.46 billion)
  • Morgan, Lewis, & Bockius ($2.45 billion)
  • White & Case ($2.39 billion)
  • Hogan Lovells ($2.31 billion)
  • Jones Day ($2.22 billion)

Data collection occurred from September 23-28, 2021.

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