Earning Six Figures From A Top-20 Law School

Stacks of money

Many people attend law school to ultimately supercharge their career and make more money. There isn't inherently anything wrong with that, so long as you understand the risks of (1) not being able to obtain a high paying job or (2) not actually enjoying your job. I will be releasing a separate essay on (2), so I'm going to focus on (1), particulary in the context of students at top-20 law schools.

The Basics

If you look at NALP’s latest data from the class of 2015, your best chance to get a six figure job is to obtain a job in private practice with a firm that has at least 51–100 attorneys.

There are two categories of these firms. Firms with 251 attorneys or more are colloquially called “Big Law” firms. Firms that have about 51–250 attorneys are called “Mid Law” firms.

You’ll essentially need to attend a top school to find a job in Mid Law or Big Law. I’m specifically talking about the top 14 schools in the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings, but you should still have a shot if you go to a top 20 school. It’s not impossible to enter Big Law from a school ranked lower than 20th, but it is much more difficult.

Along with attending a law school that is considered “prestigious,” you’ll need great 1L grades and solid interviewing skills.

Big Law

I worked at a Big Law firm after graduation. The traditional path to Big Law is to interview for a firm’s summer associate program, and then after the summer program, receive an offer for full-time employment.

The “on-campus recruiting” period begins before the beginning of your 2L year. The prestige of your law school, along with your 1L grades, play a large part in this process. This is why it’s so difficult for students from lower ranked, less prestigious schools to enter Big Law. Not as many recruiters visit their schools, and it’s even more competitive to obtain the few available interview slots. The opportunities simply aren’t there.

If the recruiter is interested after your initial screener interview, you’ll be invited to a callback interview, where you’ll speak with more attorneys. From here, you may be given an offer to become a summer associate. After participating in firm’s the summer program, you’ll almost always be given an offer to become a full-time associate.

This is the most traditional path to enter Big Law. Still, there are other ways to find a summer associate position, including reaching out directly to Big Law firms and by pounding the pavement and networking. But because these positions pay so well—new associates can now make $180,000 in salary (plus bonus) each year—it will be competitive for the foreseeable future.

Mid Law

As an alternative, you can pursue firms that have about 50–250 attorneys. These are so-called “Mid Law” firms. But compared to Big Law, these firms don’t have nearly as heavy of a presence at on-campus recruiting. They also typically pay less than Big Law firms, but their hours and the work environment are (arguably) less intense.

To obtain one of these jobs, you’re probably going to have to rely on networking and personal relationships. This is much easier said than done. Approximately 4% of class of 2015 graduates reported having one of these positions after graduation.