The Secret of My Success: How Status, Eliteness, and School Performance Shape Legal Careers

Richard Sander, Jane Bambauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


If we study the 40,000 law graduates who join the legal profession each year, how well can we predict their future careers? How much of their future is predicted by their social class? The law school they attend? Their law school grades? This article undertakes the first in-depth examination of these questions. Drawing on several large and recently released data sets, we examine the role of class, school prestige, and law school grades on the career earnings of lawyers and the success of big firm associates in becoming partners. We find that social class strongly conditions who goes to law school, but no longer predicts much about postgraduate outcomes. Law school prestige is important, but it is generally trumped by law school performance (as measured by law school grades). Law school grades reflect both personal characteristics not well captured by prelaw credentials, and one's relative position in a law school class as measured by prelaw credentials. Our findings suggest that there is little empirical basis for the overwhelming importance students assign to "eliteness" in choosing a law school.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)893-930
Number of pages38
JournalJournal of Empirical Legal Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Law


Dive into the research topics of 'The Secret of My Success: How Status, Eliteness, and School Performance Shape Legal Careers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this