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Grants Reports

Law School Alumni Networks and Legal Labor Markets: An Empirical Investigation of Law School Graduate Career Attainment (GR 13-03)

by Christopher I. Rider, Emory University; Adina Sterling, Washington University in St. Louis; and David Tan, Georgetown University

Executive Summary

This project examined the relevance of law school alumni networks to graduates’ careers. Two studies investigated intraorganizational and interorganizational influences on graduates’ careers; an ongoing third study investigates how these influences vary by gender, race/ethnicity, and school attended.

The first study examined the school-based sorting of lawyers into firm practice areas and workplace relationships. By analyzing cross-sectional data on all lawyers at the 250 largest law firms in the United States, as well as survey data from one large U.S. law firm, we determined that lawyers sort into practice areas within both firms and firm-offices based on law school attended. Even within practice areas, associates are more likely to work with partners that graduated from their own law school than with partners who did not. This study reveals how alumni networks influence opportunities for graduates to form valuable relationships with coworkers.

The second study treated the dissolutions of several large U.S. law firms as a semiexogenous influence on lawyers’ interfirm transitions. By comparing displaced lawyers’ subsequent employers to other potential employers in the same metropolitan area, we determined that lawyers do rely on law school alumni networks to obtain employment. However, subsequent employer prestige decreases with reliance on law school alumni networks to regain employment. This study informs our understanding of how law school alumni networks shape legal careers.

In an ongoing third study, we analyze co-movements of partners and associates displaced by firm dissolutions and specifically examine influences of law school alumni networks along dimensions of experience, gender, race/ethnicity, and school prestige. The objective of this study is to develop a better understanding of school-related mechanisms that contribute to legal diversity.

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