Law School Discussion

Who would you hire?

Who would you hire?
« on: January 26, 2016, 06:03:14 PM »
Had lunch with a group of attorneys today, and this hypothetical came up (as it has before).

Lets say you were in charge of hiring a new associate. Who would you be more inclined to interview: a T14 grad ranked in the middle of the pack, or a T3-T4 valedictorian?

Our group was pretty academically diverse. We had T14 grads, T4 grads, and everything in between. Interestingly, the T4 grads seemed more likely to hire the T14 grad and the T14 guys were like "No way, take the higher ranked grad!".

One guy (a T14 grad) summed it up like this (I'm paraphrasing): the average T14 student and the T4 valedictorian are probably more or less intellectually equivalent. The difference is that the valedictorian works harder, and will probably be a more productive employee.   

I realize that there are many variables, but I think I agree with his assessment. It's far more competitive to get into a top school, but once you're there is it really that much more difficult to get average passing grades?

loki13

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Re: Who would you hire?
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2016, 10:25:08 AM »
Had lunch with a group of attorneys today, and this hypothetical came up (as it has before).

Lets say you were in charge of hiring a new associate. Who would you be more inclined to interview: a T14 grad ranked in the middle of the pack, or a T3-T4 valedictorian?

Our group was pretty academically diverse. We had T14 grads, T4 grads, and everything in between. Interestingly, the T4 grads seemed more likely to hire the T14 grad and the T14 guys were like "No way, take the higher ranked grad!".

One guy (a T14 grad) summed it up like this (I'm paraphrasing): the average T14 student and the T4 valedictorian are probably more or less intellectually equivalent. The difference is that the valedictorian works harder, and will probably be a more productive employee.   

I realize that there are many variables, but I think I agree with his assessment. It's far more competitive to get into a top school, but once you're there is it really that much more difficult to get average passing grades?

Oooh..... that's actually a hard one. Without knowing more, I'd be inclined to go with a T3-T4 valedictorian. But (speaking in aggregate) I don't think you're giving a fair shake to the "average" T14 grad. Let me explain-

This decision is more premised on the fact that anyone who graduates as the valedictorian of a T3-T4 school is likely to be very, very special. They had to work hard, be smart, and be amazingly consistent. Without knowing anything else, I would be inclined to hire the top student from one of those schools, simply because of that achievement.

....but, I think we often both overestimate and underestimate T14 grads. There is a sometimes-unfortunate deification ("I went to Harvard") going on. The name, alone, is nothing. I've met T14 grads that couldn't litigate their way out of a paper bag. On the other hand, it is so difficult to get in, and the overall level (of instruction and peer level) is so high, that there are students that are average at a T14 that would have finished at the top of a T4 school. So it's not that clear cut.

What I think the salient fact is, unfortunately, is this- no matter where you finish, you're going to get a look from a T14 school. OTOH, you have to finish in the top 5% to get that same look from a T3-T4 school.

Re: Who would you hire?
« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2016, 12:07:41 PM »
Interesting theoretical debate, and I'm sure some employers might have it once per lifetime too
BUT it is normally not that and sadly most lower ranked schools try to trick 99% of their class into thinking "but I could be that 1%" no........no you can't. Math doesn't work that way. And THAT guy WILL be the ringer that is there on scholarship who could've gone to Ivy had he chose. If you are paying sticker, it is IMPOSSIBLE to be you. (end of rant)

Re: Who would you hire?
« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2016, 01:34:29 PM »
Yes, I would agree that the Valedictorian vs. T14 scenario is not common. I mean, there are only so many valedictorians in the world, right?

But depending on where you work, similar matchups are not that uncommon. In large markets like LA it's not unusual for Biglaw and federal offices to get average ranked T14 applicants who are simply trying to trade on the name versus top 10% from say, Loyola or Pepperdine. 

Re: Who would you hire?
« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2016, 01:48:54 PM »
On the other hand, it is so difficult to get in, and the overall level (of instruction and peer level) is so high, that there are students that are average at a T14 that would have finished at the top of a T4 school.

To me that's the real issue. Is the overall quality of T14 students so high that an average-ranked T14 grad is essentially equivalent (or even superior) to a T4 valedictorian?

For example, I didn't attend Harvard so I have no idea what is required to earn a C in torts at HLS. But, is getting an A in torts at the University of New Mexico going to require a degree of intellectual firepower, discipline, and writing ability that would only get you a C at HLS? I understand that the pool of peers to which the Harvard student is being compared is of a very, very high caliber. But again, is it really that difficult to get Cs at HLS?

I really don't know, but I sort of doubt it. I have a suspicion that the student who consistently gets As at New Mexico is probably a harder worker and has more self discipline.

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Re: Who would you hire?
« Reply #5 on: January 28, 2016, 11:38:08 AM »
On the other hand, it is so difficult to get in, and the overall level (of instruction and peer level) is so high, that there are students that are average at a T14 that would have finished at the top of a T4 school.

To me that's the real issue. Is the overall quality of T14 students so high that an average-ranked T14 grad is essentially equivalent (or even superior) to a T4 valedictorian?

For example, I didn't attend Harvard so I have no idea what is required to earn a C in torts at HLS. But, is getting an A in torts at the University of New Mexico going to require a degree of intellectual firepower, discipline, and writing ability that would only get you a C at HLS? I understand that the pool of peers to which the Harvard student is being compared is of a very, very high caliber. But again, is it really that difficult to get Cs at HLS?

I really don't know, but I sort of doubt it. I have a suspicion that the student who consistently gets As at New Mexico is probably a harder worker and has more self discipline.

I think that to answer this question, you have to first think of the overall barriers to entry and how that affects the overall makeup of the student body. The 25th percentile LSAT/GPA for Harvard is 170/3.75. The 75th percentile for Florida Coastal (Tier 4) is 152/3.42.

So, the worst students at HLS score 18 points higher on the LSAT and .33 higher in their GPA than the best of Florida Coastal. Something to think about. Why? Because that means the pool of students you are competing with, studying with, learning with, and achieving with is very different. You also have to factor in transfers- some of the very best students at T3/T4 schools transfer to higher-ranked schools.

This is not to disparage the truly gifted. But here's the thing. You won't find many (if any) Harvard-types at a Florida Coastal, because if they were that capable, they would be capable of getting a free ride at a T1-T2 school. This isn't to disparage the students who do well; in practice, there are dud HLS grads, and there are amazing grads from T4 schools. But it's a huge difference, because the pool is so different.

TLDR; what you have to remember is that any single HLS grad could easily have gotten into the T4 school and likely would have excelled. Credit should be given to the T4 top 5% for actually doing it, but you shouldn't unnecessarily demean a student for just being at the half-way mark in an exceptional class. It's like comparing a football player who's just "eh" at Alabama vs. a standout D2 player.

Re: Who would you hire?
« Reply #6 on: January 28, 2016, 02:44:06 PM »
Yeah, I essentially agree. I would never dismiss the accomplishment of getting accepted to a T14. These are the superstars among superstars. Anyone can have a bad day and get a 150, but nobody accidently gets 175.

Here's what I'm getting at:

I have no doubt that the "average" Harvard student is anything but average. I understand that they are very, very smart. But, as I get further into my career I see that lawyers who are smart enough + VERY hardworking are typically more productive employees than those who are VERY smart + average work ethic.

I've worked with T14 grads who sucked and non-ABA grads who kicked ass. Some T14 grads I've known were very smart but were not necessarily good employees. They were entitled, bored, felt that some work was beneath them, complained a lot. Of course, I've worked with other T14 grads who were excellent, dedicated, and put most of us to shame. It depends on the individual, I suppose.

So if the issue is who would make a better employee, I tend to think that the one who has shown exceptional motivation and discipline would be my choice, regardless of pedigree. I've never met a top 10 percenter from any school who wasn't insanely motivated.

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Re: Who would you hire?
« Reply #7 on: January 28, 2016, 03:00:04 PM »
Yeah, I essentially agree. I would never dismiss the accomplishment of getting accepted to a T14. These are the superstars among superstars. Anyone can have a bad day and get a 150, but nobody accidently gets 175.

Here's what I'm getting at:

I have no doubt that the "average" Harvard student is anything but average. I understand that they are very, very smart. But, as I get further into my career I see that lawyers who are smart enough + VERY hardworking are typically more productive employees than those who are VERY smart + average work ethic.

I've worked with T14 grads who sucked and non-ABA grads who kicked ass. Some T14 grads I've known were very smart but were not necessarily good employees. They were entitled, bored, felt that some work was beneath them, complained a lot. Of course, I've worked with other T14 grads who were excellent, dedicated, and put most of us to shame. It depends on the individual, I suppose.

So if the issue is who would make a better employee, I tend to think that the one who has shown exceptional motivation and discipline would be my choice, regardless of pedigree. I've never met a top 10 percenter from any school who wasn't insanely motivated.

But ... it depends. That's why your question is, essentially, unanswerable without more information. What position are they applying for? What other information do you have about the candidate? Was the top 5% (I wouldn't necessarily go top 10%) on law review or moot court, and if not, why not? What about the position?

See, that's the difference in expectations and even teaching styles. But here's the salient difference- you're assuming that the average HLS grad isn't a hard worker. That's the opposite type of bias.

What I'm saying, instead, is that to finish at the very top of their class (remember, a lot of the top law schools aren't grading any more in a traditional way - see, inter alia, Yale) in that environment is different. You are determining that someone who is just an average HLS student is necessarily not a hard worker- instead, however, it might be the case that this student is an incredibly hard worker, and incredibly smart, but is competing against other incredibly hard workers who happened to score 178-180 on the LSATs (if you catch my drift).

The level is different. Go back to the football analogy. You need more information when make those types of comparisons. Or, put a different way, is that just because one can rightly say that a top 5% finish in a T4 school is meaningful, doesn't mean that one can turn around and say that an average finish in HLS is necessarily because they have an average work ethic.

Re: Who would you hire?
« Reply #8 on: January 28, 2016, 04:28:27 PM »
Also, don't forget the fact that people are people and would you rather hire the T4 Grad that finished in the middle of his class, but a ton of people you know vouch for him and the kid is ready to start yesterday. Or a Harvard Grad that lives in Boston and your office is in L.A. and nobody knows anything about this guy or if he will actually get on the plan.e

The hypothetical debate is interesting, but in real life it is meaningless. There are so many factors that go into what will be a good employee-employer fit. I have recently been interviewing at firms just checking my options out and there are some places where it just clearly won't be a good fit. I went to one office where the managing partner allowed cats in the office. (I am the Bay Area so there is a lot of weird stuff) . Anyways, I am really allergic to cats so regardless of school, aptitude etc it wasn't going to work. I hate cats the managing partner loved them.

I could go on with countless analogies and circumstances and is Harvard a "great" school. Yes, but there are countless factors that have nothing whatsoever to do with what law school you attended, especially the further into your legal career you go.

Just to take it one step further, lets say you have the Harvard Grad and the Valedictorian of University of San Francisco and Severson & Werson a firm that specializes in representing Banks is choosing to hire the two. If the USF Valedictorian worked at Banks for three years before law school and the Harvard Grad worked in a Housing Rights Clinic well the USF is a better fit for Severson & Werson.

If it is a legal aid job the Housing Rights Clinic will be viewed more favorable than working at a Bank.

At the end of the day the law school bubble means very little, unless you want to work in BigLaw then the prestige matters, but there are not many of those jobs and a lot of people that get those jobs hate it, but if that is your sole goal then get into the best school you can. Otherwise, use common sense and it will take you pretty far. 

Re: Who would you hire?
« Reply #9 on: January 28, 2016, 05:15:08 PM »
But here's the salient difference- you're assuming that the average HLS grad isn't a hard worker. That's the opposite type of bias.

No, no. Quite the opposite. I have no doubt that the average HLS student is a very hard worker. I don't think anyone can earn the numeric qualifications to get into HLS without being a hard worker.

And I definitely understand your point regarding competition. A Harvard student is going to be graded in comparison to other very high caliber students.

But, I do wonder. If you are T14 student who doesn't care about law review, or gunning for some prestigious clerkship, is it really more difficult to get Cs at HLS than at the University of Kansas? I don't know, maybe it is. Maybe the competition is so talented that even getting a C requires far more work and intellectual acumen.

I know someone who graduated from Harvard and now teaches law. I'll ask what he thinks.