Law students at Yale and other law schools are working to improve the quality of life at top law firms. And the firms are taking notice.
Two groups of law students released rankings this month in order to provide hopeful lawyers with more information about firms hiring law school graduates. The lists, which measure factors from family-friendliness to workplace diversity, are intended to change the way students evaluate law firms and the way law firms operate.
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Students at Stanford Law School founded Building a Better Legal Profession in January “to bring some of the humanity back to the legal profession,” said Andrew Bruck, one of the group’s co-presidents. In April, the group sent a letter to top law firms explaining that law students are willing to accept lower salaries in exchange for a more pleasant work environment, he said. And this summer, the group began sorting through data to compile its rankings.
The rankings incorporate data already supplied annually by law firms to the National Association for Law Placement. Each law firm receives a separate letter grade in 14 different categories, as well as a composite grade.
The group Yale Law Women also released a ranking this month of the top ten family-friendly law firms. Jennifer Broxmeyer LAW ’09, president of Yale Law Women and a board member of Building a Better Legal Profession, said Yale Law Women’s list evaluates law firms based on factors such as the amount of paid paternity and maternity leave they offer and how many billable hours they expect lawyers to work. This is the group’s second year releasing its ranking.
“It makes a big difference during interviews if all the people you meet are men,” she said. “You get a feeling when everyone looks the same.”
Given the fierce nature of competition for top law school graduates, firms are already taking their rankings into account in making workplace policies said Michelle Landis Dauber, a professor at Stanford Law School and adviser to Building a Better Legal Profession. As students begin to make these rankings an important fact in deciding where to apply and what offers of employment to accept, firms will be forced to respond with efforts to bolster their grades, she said.
“Firms were benefiting from the lack of organized information about them and so they got a pass,” she said. “We’re shining a light of information onto these firms. There’s no reason to ever interview with the firms that do poorly in the rankings, so that should allow students to turn the tables on the firms.”
While the data for each firm have always been publicly available, the ability to compare law firms quickly based on the number of hours worked, amount of pro bono work done or the number of female, minority or openly gay partners and associates is new, Bruck said.
The two groups’ rankings often diverge in their results — sometimes starkly. New York law firm Proskauer Rose, which ranked second on Yale Law Women’s list this year, received only an overall diversity grade of C- from Building a Better Legal Profession.
Even when comparing similar indicators of firm friendliness, the rankings can differ. For example, despite its top ranking from Yale Law Women, Proskauer received a grade of F from Building a Better Legal Profession in the female partners ranking, because only 13 percent of its partners are women. This difference between Yale Law Women’s rankings and Building a Better Legal Profession’s grades is in part due to Yale Law Women’s decision to assign different weights to different criteria. Yale Law Women decided how to weigh data based on a survey of 200 Yale Law alumni who graduated between five and eight years ago.
But David Noah LAW ’09 said the inconsistent nature of Yale Law Women’s annual rankings — only two firms, Arnold & Porter and Covington & Burling were listed in each of the past two years’ top-ten lists — reveals a broader truth about private law practices.
“What [the fluctuation] means for me is that there’s no such thing as a truly family-friendly law firm,” Noah said.
Whether or not this is the case, many law students are taking these rankings into account as they apply to law firms, Yale Law School Career Development Office Director Kelly Voight said. Students are interested in finding firms that offer them both the potential for lucrative and rewarding careers and the ability to have an enjoyable personal life, she said.
And, based on the number of hits on the Building a Better Legal Profession Web site, the rankings have shown themselves to be popular, Bruck said. The site received approximately 10,000 visits on its first day and nearly 30,000 visits by the end of the first week.
Carmine Boccuzzi ’90 LAW ’94, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb who also chairs its Diversity Committee, said his firm was pleased that it ranked first in Building a Better Legal Profession’s ranking of Manhattan law firms’ diversity.
“At Cleary Gottlieb, we have always prided ourselves on the individuality and uniqueness of our lawyers, and we believe that promoting diversity and respect for diversity among our lawyers and staff members strengthens our entire firm,” he said.
Phoenix-based Quarles & Brady ranked first on Yale Law Women’s list this year. Morrison & Foerster, of San Francisco, received the highest grade — an A- — from Building a Better Legal Profession.