Here’s some more data that puts into question our reliance on high scores and law school credentials in determining which lawyers we want to populate our firms with.

LSAT Scores

According to a chart prepared by the Tax Prof Blog, math or physics majors are likely to score the highest on their LSATs, theoretically making them the best candidates for law school and the best lawyers.

Or maybe not. As one blogger commented, "At a prior AmLaw 100 firm, I was chastised for not getting the chair of the IP department ‘out there more,’ writing, doing press. My response, ‘The guy has an undergrad in chemistry, then went off to law school. I’m lucky if he opens his door.’

But this blogger goes further: "The BUSINESS of law, and the success of any given individual lawyer, is becoming more dependent on the development of personal relationships, the ability to reach out and promote one’s self, and SALES, [so] we need to remove the barriers that keep those who are so predisposed out of law school."  Or, as one article recently proclaimed: "Emotional Intelligence a New Hiring Criterion."

Following that prescription–matriculating and then hiring candidates based on something other than hard scores or law school credentials–would require a much more sophisticated method of discriminating, such as personality testing, as part of law school entry requirements or firm recruitment considerations.  Are we ready for that? 

We know that rainmakers and managing partners show a different array of personality traits than most lawyers–they are more social, more extroverted, more resilient, more empathic and more persistent–in total, more emotionally intelligent.  Should we be populating our firms from the bottom up with more of those traits?  Particularly now that one of the survival strategies for practicing law requires successful marketing, business closing and relationship building? And if so, what are the best procedures to insure that we identify a high percentage of the kinds of lawyers we want to hire?

Screening for these rarer combinations of traits might also require firms to look at a broader range of law schools than they typically have–at the very time that the pendulum appears to be swinging back to hiring only from the most prestigious schools. 

Premier Law Schools

A recent study entitled "After the JD" by the American Bar Foundation points out some of the benefits of broader recruiting.  The study concludes that graduates of non-elite law schools who work at the top 200 firms are happier than their colleagues from top-tier schools and also last longer in their jobs.

Why would that be?  It makes sense that lower-tier law school grads would work harder to nail the few BigLaw positions available to them, and, as a result, would be both more grateful for their jobs and also likely to have fewer opportunities to leave.  Other pundits have suggested that student who opt for regional law schools are more likely to have stronger family and community relationships that they want to maintain.  And that they are also more likely to have financial considerations that militate in favor of attending a less expensive law school with the possibility of working part or even full time.  Strong relationships, financial savvy, self-regulating drive–maybe our kind of candidates?

But regardless of how good it is for us, recent market pressures may in any event make firms drop the broad-barreled recruiting approach.

As Aric Press in The American Lawyer points out: "I fear that we will look back at the exuberant spree of the last few years as the high-water mark of non-elite law school hiring. There simply weren’t enough bodies to go around, so the Big Law machine was willing to expand its recruiting pool. The fact that some of those hired performed well, or were happier with their lots, or possessed the drive and emotional intelligence that clients crave will not be enough to change old habits. When it comes to preserving the prestige patina, sometimes the rules of cognitive dissonance are suspended."

Press also reminds us of the opportunity these kinds of findings afford those firms who are thinking about their future and trying to insure its success–"an opportunity for the firms wise enough to seek first-class talent no matter what brand is on a diploma. Putting that attitude into practice would be an important part of an effort to take hiring more seriously, of not relying on admissions officers to do the work of hiring committees, to actually define attributes that firms and their customers need–and then try to recruit for them. Rather than retrench, this is a moment to put your partners to work on the future of your firm. As it happens, they have plenty of time to devote to the project."

Informal Survey

Let us know what you and your firm are doing in two areas of recruiting: 

1. Have your target law schools broadened or narrowed and why?

2. Have the attributes you are looking for changed?   In which ways?  And how do you identify those attributes in candidates? 

Stay tuned.