Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

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paisa_sandia

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Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby paisa_sandia » Tue Jan 17, 2017 4:25 pm

This has likely been debated ad nauseum in various threads, but I want to pose the question directly here to see what folks' thoughts are on it. How much of a factor does "prestige" (mostly narrowly defined as USNWR rankings) play in the hiring practices of public interest organizations and/or the government? I recognize that prestige plays a very different role in each, but for the sake of the two frequently overlapping I am including them both, with a particularly emphasis on, in the latter case, departments such as the DOJ.

Specifically, would it make more sense to attend a T1 school with a full scholarship or to make the dive into a T14 or even T6 paying near sticker price, if one's primary aim was to practice public interest law? What is one's aims were particularly doing civil rights or criminal justice work?

Thanks, friends.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby ian10 » Tue Jan 17, 2017 5:38 pm

I work for a firm that place law students into jobs. One thing we've noticed is that a degree from an elite university is less of a requirement in the public sector. Sure, a degree from Harvard Law will help, but only marginally, especially in government. Furthermore, government pay tends to be a bit less than in the private sector, so you'll be less likely to pay off your hotshot college loans. I'd say go for the cheaper university.

Two other trends in the legal market help show this point:

1) Law firms are requiring students to become much more specialized than before. This is a general trend across all industries, it seems. Study a particular niche that attracts you. Don't try to be a jack of all trades. You'll end up being a master of none.

2) Employers (both private and public) are moving away from (albeit gradually) the idea that candidates must have a degree from an elite university. Now, you shouldn't go to just any college. Look up universities' graduate employment statistics and make sure that you feel confident in school's placement statistics.

You can read more about the market here: http://www.bcgsearch.com/article/900047 ... f-2017/#19

Hope this helps. If you have any other questions, feel free to let me know.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby trebekismyhero » Tue Jan 17, 2017 6:18 pm

ian10 wrote:I work for a firm that place law students into jobs. One thing we've noticed is that a degree from an elite university is less of a requirement in the public sector. Sure, a degree from Harvard Law will help, but only marginally, especially in government. Furthermore, government pay tends to be a bit less than in the private sector, so you'll be less likely to pay off your hotshot college loans. I'd say go for the cheaper university.

Two other trends in the legal market help show this point:

1) Law firms are requiring students to become much more specialized than before. This is a general trend across all industries, it seems. Study a particular niche that attracts you. Don't try to be a jack of all trades. You'll end up being a master of none.

2) Employers (both private and public) are moving away from (albeit gradually) the idea that candidates must have a degree from an elite university. Now, you shouldn't go to just any college. Look up universities' graduate employment statistics and make sure that you feel confident in school's placement statistics.

You can read more about the market here: http://www.bcgsearch.com/article/900047 ... f-2017/#19

Hope this helps. If you have any other questions, feel free to let me know.


This is a little too broad. I think that it is true at most local gov't levels that it doesn't matter much where you go to college, but if you want to be at DOJ then that is going to be just as likely to be about prestige and grades as big law if not more so. Same with the more prestigious non-profits like ACLU, NAACP, etc. It all depends on what your goals are in PI. And who knows if it will be around much longer, but PSLF covers your law school loans if you are doing non-profit PI and gov't legal work so that will help with your "hotshot college loans."

If your goal is BigFed and the more prestigious PI, then I would probably lean towards T6 over T1 with a full ride, but if you wanted to be a PD at the local level then I would take the T1 with a full ride...assuming it is near a market you want to live and work in.

Also, law school is totally general law. You get trained as a lawyer when you go to gov't or a firm. Studying certain law can help, but very few places expect you to specialize based on what you study in law school.

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A. Nony Mouse

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Tue Jan 17, 2017 6:39 pm

Actually DOJ hires from a school pretty wide range of schools, and many other agencies do too, if the person has good experience in the field (and good grades - they often trump school name IME). Having a top school degree isn't ever going to hurt and some people care more than others, but it's not a hard and fast requirement at all. (DOJ is also HUGE and hires for a really wide range of jobs. So what's required for SDNY USAO, for instance, isn't the same as what's required for BOP.) Frankly, if you want big fed, I think the important things are grades and good experience. (The flip side to this is that a lot of agencies like former clerks, and certainly it's easier to clerk out of higher ranked schools, but definitely not impossible out of others.)

This runs a little counter to the "law is a general degree," too - I do think agencies like to see experience with/dedication to their mission. This is probably more about jobs/internships/clinics than about strictly classes, and you can spin a lot of stuff a lot of ways, and if you're too specialized you run the risk of putting all your eggs in one basket. But some focus can be very helpful to the right (non-biglaw) employers.

I can't comment on high-stakes impact litigation types of PI.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby Nebby » Tue Jan 17, 2017 7:30 pm

With regard to PI, it depends on the degree of difference. A Boalt student can do anything a Harvard student can. An American University student? Still possible, but not nearly as likely.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby paisa_sandia » Thu Jan 19, 2017 10:20 am

Yes, I've heard that places like the DOJ are sometimes prestige snobs and at other times just hire the people who seem the most passionate and competent with the work of their department. For instance, I've heard the Office of Civil Rights can be pretty snobby, but that's mostly just TLS talk. Thoughts?

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby Nebby » Thu Jan 19, 2017 10:25 am

paisa_sandia wrote:Yes, I've heard that places like the DOJ are sometimes prestige snobs and at other times just hire the people who seem the most passionate and competent with the work of their department. For instance, I've heard the Office of Civil Rights can be pretty snobby, but that's mostly just TLS talk. Thoughts?

They're not snobby. That office is super competitive to get a job at so they have an inordinate amount talent applying and that means a lot of T14 students. Not as many T14 students are applying to the criminal division, for instance. E.g., most prosecutors I know from CLS thought NYC DAOs were better than DOJ crim division.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby cavalier1138 » Thu Jan 19, 2017 12:43 pm

I don't think it's as much a function of prestige as it is of practicality. If you don't get into a competitive federal job right out of school (and you won't), then they want you to have biglaw experience. To get that, you need to get hired by a firm. To get hired by a biglaw firm, you really need to go to the T14. You can dismiss it as snobbery, but the most competitive government offices want to hire attorneys who have already handled tough cases and workloads. Rightly or wrongly, biglaw is perceived as a very good measure of whether someone has developed those skills.

And, as mentioned, this varies based on which agency you're referring to. If you want to work for SDNY, they'll have different requirements than the department of transportation (or maybe not... I don't know how in-demand DoT jobs are).

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby Nebby » Thu Jan 19, 2017 12:46 pm

cavalier1138 wrote:I don't think it's as much a function of prestige as it is of practicality. If you don't get into a competitive federal job right out of school (and you won't), then they want you to have biglaw experience. To get that, you need to get hired by a firm. To get hired by a biglaw firm, you really need to go to the T14. You can dismiss it as snobbery, but the most competitive government offices want to hire attorneys who have already handled tough cases and workloads. Rightly or wrongly, biglaw is perceived as a very good measure of whether someone has developed those skills.

And, as mentioned, this varies based on which agency you're referring to. If you want to work for SDNY, they'll have different requirements than the department of transportation (or maybe not... I don't know how in-demand DoT jobs are).

Outside of SDNY, EDNY, and the California districts, biglaw isn't a requirement for federal service. The DOT attorneys I know all have vastly different experiences (some biglaw but most not) and attended a wide range of schools from Harvard to American to Vermont.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby cavalier1138 » Thu Jan 19, 2017 12:52 pm

Nebby wrote:
cavalier1138 wrote:I don't think it's as much a function of prestige as it is of practicality. If you don't get into a competitive federal job right out of school (and you won't), then they want you to have biglaw experience. To get that, you need to get hired by a firm. To get hired by a biglaw firm, you really need to go to the T14. You can dismiss it as snobbery, but the most competitive government offices want to hire attorneys who have already handled tough cases and workloads. Rightly or wrongly, biglaw is perceived as a very good measure of whether someone has developed those skills.

And, as mentioned, this varies based on which agency you're referring to. If you want to work for SDNY, they'll have different requirements than the department of transportation (or maybe not... I don't know how in-demand DoT jobs are).

Outside of SDNY, EDNY, and the California districts, biglaw isn't a requirement for federal service. The DOT attorneys I know all have vastly different experiences (some biglaw but most not) and attended a wide range of schools from Harvard to American to Vermont.


Right, but OP is asking about places like the DOJ Civil Rights Division. I assume they're focusing on the most competitive of the federal jobs.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby Nebby » Thu Jan 19, 2017 12:58 pm

cavalier1138 wrote:
Nebby wrote:
cavalier1138 wrote:I don't think it's as much a function of prestige as it is of practicality. If you don't get into a competitive federal job right out of school (and you won't), then they want you to have biglaw experience. To get that, you need to get hired by a firm. To get hired by a biglaw firm, you really need to go to the T14. You can dismiss it as snobbery, but the most competitive government offices want to hire attorneys who have already handled tough cases and workloads. Rightly or wrongly, biglaw is perceived as a very good measure of whether someone has developed those skills.

And, as mentioned, this varies based on which agency you're referring to. If you want to work for SDNY, they'll have different requirements than the department of transportation (or maybe not... I don't know how in-demand DoT jobs are).

Outside of SDNY, EDNY, and the California districts, biglaw isn't a requirement for federal service. The DOT attorneys I know all have vastly different experiences (some biglaw but most not) and attended a wide range of schools from Harvard to American to Vermont.


Right, but OP is asking about places like the DOJ Civil Rights Division. I assume they're focusing on the most competitive of the federal jobs.

True. They, however, also get a lot of laterals from people that began their careers at places like the NAACP LDF and other impact lit orgs practicing civil rights. Your generalist biglaw litigation associate won't have the same level of experience as those people.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Jan 19, 2017 1:24 pm

Nebby wrote:
paisa_sandia wrote:Yes, I've heard that places like the DOJ are sometimes prestige snobs and at other times just hire the people who seem the most passionate and competent with the work of their department. For instance, I've heard the Office of Civil Rights can be pretty snobby, but that's mostly just TLS talk. Thoughts?

They're not snobby. That office is super competitive to get a job at so they have an inordinate amount talent applying and that means a lot of T14 students. Not as many T14 students are applying to the criminal division, for instance. E.g., most prosecutors I know from CLS thought NYC DAOs were better than DOJ crim division.

But it's also that the NY DAs hire a lot more entry level people that DOJ does (this year it was 9), so I don't think that's entirely by choice (plus DOJ requires you to live in DC so if you want to stay in NYC there are very few entry level federal criminal options). Plus I think DOJ going to heavily favor clerks. So I don't think this is just because CLS students don't respect the criminal division.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby Nebby » Thu Jan 19, 2017 1:27 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:
Nebby wrote:
paisa_sandia wrote:Yes, I've heard that places like the DOJ are sometimes prestige snobs and at other times just hire the people who seem the most passionate and competent with the work of their department. For instance, I've heard the Office of Civil Rights can be pretty snobby, but that's mostly just TLS talk. Thoughts?

They're not snobby. That office is super competitive to get a job at so they have an inordinate amount talent applying and that means a lot of T14 students. Not as many T14 students are applying to the criminal division, for instance. E.g., most prosecutors I know from CLS thought NYC DAOs were better than DOJ crim division.

But it's also that the NY DAs hire a lot more entry level people that DOJ does (this year it was 9), so I don't think that's entirely by choice (plus DOJ requires you to live in DC so if you want to stay in NYC there are very few entry level federal criminal options). Plus I think DOJ going to heavily favor clerks. So I don't think this is just because CLS students don't respect the criminal division.

I didn't say they didn't respect it. Such projection, A Noony Moose!

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Jan 19, 2017 1:28 pm

Nebby wrote:
cavalier1138 wrote:
Nebby wrote:
cavalier1138 wrote:I don't think it's as much a function of prestige as it is of practicality. If you don't get into a competitive federal job right out of school (and you won't), then they want you to have biglaw experience. To get that, you need to get hired by a firm. To get hired by a biglaw firm, you really need to go to the T14. You can dismiss it as snobbery, but the most competitive government offices want to hire attorneys who have already handled tough cases and workloads. Rightly or wrongly, biglaw is perceived as a very good measure of whether someone has developed those skills.

And, as mentioned, this varies based on which agency you're referring to. If you want to work for SDNY, they'll have different requirements than the department of transportation (or maybe not... I don't know how in-demand DoT jobs are).

Outside of SDNY, EDNY, and the California districts, biglaw isn't a requirement for federal service. The DOT attorneys I know all have vastly different experiences (some biglaw but most not) and attended a wide range of schools from Harvard to American to Vermont.

Right, but OP is asking about places like the DOJ Civil Rights Division. I assume they're focusing on the most competitive of the federal jobs.

True. They, however, also get a lot of laterals from people that began their careers at places like the NAACP LDF and other impact lit orgs practicing civil rights. Your generalist biglaw litigation associate won't have the same level of experience as those people.

Also agree with this.

I think people need to be a lot more specific here when they're talking about government jobs. Even "DOJ" covers a really wide range of jobs.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Jan 19, 2017 1:30 pm

Nebby wrote:
A. Nony Mouse wrote:
Nebby wrote:
paisa_sandia wrote:Yes, I've heard that places like the DOJ are sometimes prestige snobs and at other times just hire the people who seem the most passionate and competent with the work of their department. For instance, I've heard the Office of Civil Rights can be pretty snobby, but that's mostly just TLS talk. Thoughts?

They're not snobby. That office is super competitive to get a job at so they have an inordinate amount talent applying and that means a lot of T14 students. Not as many T14 students are applying to the criminal division, for instance. E.g., most prosecutors I know from CLS thought NYC DAOs were better than DOJ crim division.

But it's also that the NY DAs hire a lot more entry level people that DOJ does (this year it was 9), so I don't think that's entirely by choice (plus DOJ requires you to live in DC so if you want to stay in NYC there are very few entry level federal criminal options). Plus I think DOJ going to heavily favor clerks. So I don't think this is just because CLS students don't respect the criminal division.

I didn't say they didn't respect it. Such projection, A Noony Moose!

Okay, fair. :lol: I still think your comment is wrong and plenty of T14 students are applying to crim. You just have to do it through the honors program unless you're an experienced attorney and either way it's a pretty narrow pipeline.

But I also agree "selective" is probably a better description for Civil Rights. They can hire people with top grades from the top schools who have amazing relevant experience, so why wouldn't they? (I once linkedin stalked a CR honors attorney who was Harvard/Yale/SDNY/9th Cir with all kinds of CR experience. They're definitely hiring him over me.)

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby Nebby » Thu Jan 19, 2017 1:32 pm

Maybe I am just upset that ENRD didn't offer me, which in hindsight was a good thing considering what's coming down the pipe.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby zot1 » Thu Jan 19, 2017 5:15 pm

Keep in mind the people doing the hiring in federal government agencies are... people. And no matter how objective they want to be, they will likely bring their own biases into the hiring process. For example, if someone has two students before him, both top 10%, journal, great relevant experience, but one went to Harvard and the other to a TTT, chances are that person will pick the kid from Harvard.

Similarly, if the person doing the hiring is from a lower-ranked school, they might give a leg up to the kid from TTT because they might feel like it's more of an uphill battle to get 10% at TTT.

When it comes down to it, prestige isn't everything, but it always helps.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby zot1 » Thu Jan 19, 2017 5:16 pm

Nebby wrote:Maybe I am just upset that ENRD didn't offer me, which in hindsight was a good thing considering what's coming down the pipe.


You'll be fine.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby favabeansoup » Thu Jan 19, 2017 7:13 pm

Not to get way too off topic, but how much as the proposed Trump hiring freeze affected bigFed hiring?

Is just general politics something that the OP needs to take into account to, beyond just prestige? I.e. PDs will probably always be hiring regardless of political climate, but will more selective federal hiring under freeze/anti-big gov administrations lead to more prestife whoring by certain departments?

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby zot1 » Thu Jan 19, 2017 7:28 pm

Hiring freeze generally means no one gets hired, so at that point it won't matter if the candidate is from Harvard or Florida Coastal.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Jan 19, 2017 7:46 pm

I mean, there was a hiring freeze under Obama, too. I don't think anyone knows yet what this one will look like exactly.

I don't think the basic attitude to prestige will really change, I think that if you can hire far fewer people you'll tend to go with experienced ones who can do more with less training (for lateral hiring, that is). But I did interview with one federal agency (not DOJ), I asked them a random question about if they saw any effect of the recession on their cases (I was honestly curious) and one person piped up, "I'm not sure but I will say we get MUCH better honors candidates now!" So while I don't think they were prestige whores at heart, they may well have gone, hey, we're getting Harvard kids now, let's hire one! Or someone might have said, the Harvard kids are applying only because they can't get a biglaw job, fuck them, I'm hiring the Local U grad.

Also depending on the administration it may be that fewer people apply. There are a ton of factors.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby dm1683 » Thu Jan 19, 2017 9:26 pm

favabeansoup wrote:Not to get way too off topic, but how much as the proposed Trump hiring freeze affected bigFed hiring?

Is just general politics something that the OP needs to take into account to, beyond just prestige? I.e. PDs will probably always be hiring regardless of political climate, but will more selective federal hiring under freeze/anti-big gov administrations lead to more prestife whoring by certain departments?


OP, just try to fake a Russian accent and you'll be in.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby bretby » Fri Jan 20, 2017 7:56 pm

paisa_sandia wrote:This has likely been debated ad nauseum in various threads, but I want to pose the question directly here to see what folks' thoughts are on it. How much of a factor does "prestige" (mostly narrowly defined as USNWR rankings) play in the hiring practices of public interest organizations and/or the government? I recognize that prestige plays a very different role in each, but for the sake of the two frequently overlapping I am including them both, with a particularly emphasis on, in the latter case, departments such as the DOJ.

Specifically, would it make more sense to attend a T1 school with a full scholarship or to make the dive into a T14 or even T6 paying near sticker price, if one's primary aim was to practice public interest law? What is one's aims were particularly doing civil rights or criminal justice work?

Thanks, friends.


This runs counter to some of the advice on this thread, but from what I have seen, if you want to do PI, you are better served graduating with less debt than with a degree from a higher-ranked school. People (and schools) trumpet PSLF and LRAP programs, but they do place serious restrictions on your career flexibility for a significant period of time. PI organizations at nearly every level are significantly more interested in demonstrated interest in their cause than in a fancy name. For elite PI, most people don't get their first job at, say, the ACLU right out of law school, but come to it after having put in time in another PI organization, so it is more important to build your PI street cred (and network) than it is to take on a lot of debt to go to a fancy school.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby ood » Sun Jan 29, 2017 10:40 pm

Will say that HYS & C have good loan program. From what I understand these are not tied to IBR and the government's 10 yr forgiveness program.

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Re: Importance of Prestige to Public Interest and Government

Postby paisa_sandia » Thu Feb 09, 2017 2:58 pm

Do there exist tools or websites for comparing and contrasting different schools' LRAPs? They're difficult to get a true sense of, and I've heard more than a few people who relied on them after paying sticker at T14s to do PI work who have said they often are not all they're cracked up to be. Seems like in many cases the flexibility of a debt-free T1 degree can be better for one's career prospects, even if gunning for prestigious PI or gov't, than a T14 or even a T6 degree complete with $200,000 worth of debt.



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