Southwestern University Law Review
Two major trends have dominated the American legal profession in recent years. First, "the legal profession has seen a striking growth in the largest firms during the latter part of the last century." In 1960, Shearman Sterling & Wright (now called Shearman & Sterling) was the largest firm in the country - and therefore the world. It had 125 lawyers. By the close of the century, there were more than 250 firms larger than Shearman & Sterling had been forty years before, with the largest ten topping the scales at 1000 lawyers or more. Today, in order to make the top 25 firms must have at least 175 lawyers, and the median size is well over 500. Moreover, these "mega-firms" (to use a now antiquated sounding phrase that scholars once used to refer to what they then regarded as new and rare entrants on the professional scene) can now be found in virtually every major city in the country and many minor ones as well.
The second trend has been the growth of the profession itself. The U.S. legal profession doubled in size from 1960 to 1985 - and nearly doubled again between 1985 and 2000. For the most part, this growth has not been fueled by an increase in the number of law students graduating from the country's oldest and most prestigious law schools. With few exceptions, the enrollment of these schools has remained remarkably constant during this period - at least with respect to their J.D. programs. Instead, growth has primarily come from the creation of new law schools and expanded enrollment in schools located outside of the top tier as measured by U.S. News and World Report.
In this paper, we analyze one important group of lawyers who reside at the intersection of these two trends: graduates of "urban law schools," by which we mean schools located in major urban areas that are ranked outside of the top tier, who are working in large law firms. During the so-called "Golden Age" of the 1960s, graduates from urban law schools had virtually no chance of being hired by elite law firms. But the tremendous growth in both the number and absolute size of "large" law firms during the last decades of the twentieth century - combined with the relative stability in the size of the graduating classes at most elite law schools - has meant that there are simply not enough of these prized recruits to fill the hiring needs of the nation's top law firms. Although firms have responded to this labor crunch by reaching deeper into the class at the schools from which they have traditionally recruited, they have also significantly expanded the number and diversity of law schools from which they hire. In the pages that follow, we investigate how these changing recruiting patterns are affecting the careers of the graduates of urban law schools - and, in turn, what the careers of these graduates can tell us about the continuing significance of the status hierarchies that defined large law firms during the "Golden Age."
David Wilkins, Ronit Dinovitzer & Rishi Batra, Urban Law School Graduates in Large Law Firms, 36 Sw. U. L. Rev. 433 (2007).