A Toronto sociologist is getting set to track a countrywide cohort ofCanadian lawyers in a bid to duplicate a new study suggesting largeU.S. firms are missing the mark by recruiting graduates exclusivelyfrom top-tier law schools.
In a study for the American Bar Association, the University of
Toronto’s Ronit Dinovitzer has been working with Bryant Garth from
Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles in following the careers of
5,000 U.S. lawyers who began practising in 2000. In this month’s
edition of the American Lawyer, they reflect on findings from an
earlier paper they wrote for the study.
They argue that large
U.S. law firms are misguided in recruiting only graduates from top-tier
law schools who as a whole find big-firm life less satisfying than
their peers from lower-tier schools.
Dinovitzer and Garth point
to data showing that among survey respondents working at firms with
more than 100 lawyers, just 26 per cent of graduates from one of the
country’s top 10 schools cited “extreme satisfaction” with being a
lawyer. However, 49 per cent of those from fourth-tier schools reported
that level of job satisfaction.
They also reported that 59 per
cent of those from elite schools planned to leave their firm within two
years, while just over a quarter of fourth-tier graduates intended to
The researchers suggest a sense of mutual elitism could
create higher job expectations among graduates from big-name schools
who are familiar with the monetary rewards offered by careers in
business consulting or investment banking.
“Thus, it may be that
the lucrative salaries offered by the large law firms are no
consolation for the hours that they have to work,” wrote Dinovitzer and
Garth. “They know they have other options and they have friends who are
getting even richer with those other options.”
Law Times she hopes to begin a similar study on a nationwide cohort of
Canadian law school graduates in about a year. While admitting it’s
unclear whether her findings resonate north of the border, Dinovitzer
says the study would benefit Canada’s legal community.
“It’s important to know who’s going where and why,” she says.
past research has shown that U of T Faculty of Law graduates are more
likely to end up in large law firms than those from other law schools
in the province. She notes as well that U of T requires a higher LSAT
score and grade-point average for admittance.
“So you begin to
watch the funnelling of talent into particular practice settings,” she
says. “You begin to recognize that the best and brightest of Ontario is
serving corporate interests.
You begin to wonder where is all
this talent going and what happens to the democratic ends of our legal
profession if this is how it’s getting skewed. So that’s one of the
pressing reasons [for this research]. Who’s serving corporate power,
and why is it so skewed?”
It’s also useful to know how people
build careers and for law firms to have some insight into personnel
strategies, says Dinovitzer.
“If you’re worried about the cost of
turnover as a large law firm, you might want to invest in people who
want to invest in you in the long term,” she says.
As a sociologist, Dinovitzer says she is also generally interested in “which individuals get which rewards.”
have to worry as a sociologist [about] who’s getting all of the
goodies. Is there an equal distribution of the goodies, and if there
isn’t — which we know there isn’t — we have to begin to understand
why,” she says.
Nevertheless, lawyers from top Canadian firms
note that the structure of this country’s legal services industry is
vastly different from that in the United States.
Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP co-chairman Clay Horner says his firm has a blend of lawyers from different backgrounds.
like to think that we’re recruiting the top tier of law students from
each of the law schools we are recruiting from,” he says. “If we look
at who comes [and] who stays, there wouldn’t be any kind of
generalization you could make about what schools people come from.
you certainly wouldn’t make any generalization about who would or
wouldn’t be particularly successful. We have folks who we consider to
be among our very strongest associates and partners that come from a
very wide spectrum of schools.”
Norm Letalik, a partner and
managing director of professional excellence at Borden Ladner Gervais
LLP, says law school culture in the United States differs greatly from
Canada’s. While many U.S. firms won’t even look at applicants from
outside a narrow list of top-tier schools, he’s not aware of any large
Canadian firm that is similarly restrictive in its hiring practices.
Canada, the pecking order is not nearly as defined as it is in the
U.S.,” he says. “In Canada, we’ve always been more open to a larger
group of people, and I think that creates a bit of a different
mentality at the firms. It’s not as if Canadian law firms are only
opening doors to people from, shall we call it, ‘an elite little
country club.’ That’s just not the case here.”
Western Ontario Faculty of Law dean Ian Holloway says it’s unclear
whether the study’s findings are relevant here. But he does think big
firms in Canada overemphasize grades in the recruitment process.
missing an awful lot of students who have good things to offer [but]
who might just not be quite so good at writing law school
examinations,” he says.
“Grades are important. They measure
intelligence, there’s no question about that. But raw intelligence,
[while] it’s an important factor . . . it’s only one factor in
determining whether someone’s going to be a good lawyer.”
suggests more importance should be placed on other traits, such as work
ethic, personal drive, teamwork, a sense of honour and duty, and
“Firms are doing themselves a disservice by not being
more scientific in the way in which they approach hiring,” he says. “A
healthy law firm, like any organization, has a blend of personality
Studies similar to Dinovitzer’s have been conducted on a
regional basis in Canada. Hers would be the first to delve into the
issue on a nationwide basis.
“I’m just eager to do this in the
Canadian context,” says Dinovitzer. “We do know a lot about Canadian
lawyers, but this is one question that we haven’t looked at so much,
especially in terms of understanding what law schools they came from
and what’s the effect of their social background on where they end up.”