OK, so since a lot of people here may not have done a ton of research into firm hiring, I wrote a primer on law firm rankings, the NLJ 250, and lawyer salaries. It follows my number crunching.
For the tl;dr crowd - I took the NLJ 250 data and calculated some actual stats to help settle the 'but the NLJ 250 is too east coast centric / includes many non 'market' paying firms / waaaaah' disputes that come up all the time on TLS.
First, the hard data: http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNL ... 2425778391
Now, the analysis. Follow me carefully, it may prove a comfort:
# of NLJ 250 firms: 250
# of Lawyers at NLJ 250 firms: 133,723
# of associates at NLJ 250 firms: 67,648
# of law students admitted each year: Roughly 50,000
# of law students graduating each year: Roughly 43,000
# of law students from the T14 going to NLJ 250 firms: Roughly 2,800
# of law students in the top 14 compared to all law schools: roughly 9%
# of NLJ 250 firms that paid $160,000 in 2008 ('market') in market (IE NYC/DC/IL/LA) areas: 115 (46%)
# of NLJ 250 firms that paid 6 figures (>= $100,000) in market areas: 203 (81.2%)
# of NLJ 250 firms that paid below 6 figures: 12 (4.8%)
# of NLJ 250 firms that did not report salary data: 35 (14%)
But wait thesealocust... the firms at the top of the list are like 10 times the size of the firms at the bottom! I want to hear about per-lawyer salaries, not per firm!
Well I'm glad you asked!
Percentage of NLJ 250 lawyers who work at a firm that pays market: 65.5% (note that comes from just 46% of firms)
Percentage of NLJ 250 lawyers who work at a firm that pays 6 figures: 84.7%
Firms that don't disclose salaries, by NLJ ranking:
Top 50: 5 firms
51-100: 4 firms
101-150: 11(!) firms
151-200: 7 firms
201-250: 8 firms
EDIT: BONUS MATH!
C/O '07 grads: 43,518
c/o '07 responding: 41,707
c/o '07 in NLJ 250: 12.6%
~5,200 biglaw 3L hires in 2007
~4,400 T14 grads in 2007
~2,800 T14 grads were 3L hires (ostensibly post 2L associateship)
People often mention that T14 = 50% or higher placement in the NLJ 250.
Now we can say with some degree of confidence that in 2007 roughly 54% of the total spots in the NLJ 250 went to graduates of the top 14 law schools.
thesealocust's primer on law firm rankings & salaries:
So these posts tend not to generate much discussion on TLS, but I ran some numbers that I thought would be really useful for discussions about which top law schools is topper than all the other top law schools, and other such important matters that tend to come up here.
A note on rankings: There are 3 obvious sources for ranking law firms.
The first is the Vault 100 - often discussed on places such as autoadmit. Firms here are ranked _exclusively_ by a survey of lawyers, much like the peer scores that USNWR uses. Take it in what sense thou whilt - this ranks nothing more than 'prestige'.
The second is the Amlaw rankings, usually 'first 100', 'second 100', etc. These are, as far as I know, strictly a ranking of how much money the firm earns. This is a proxy for size in most respects.
And the one that comes up the most due to its use in the rankins is the much flawed, oft quoted, NLJ 250. People used to USNWR rankings might assume that the NLJ uses some sort of stupid formula to rank law firms based on the size of their libraries, but it's quite a bit simpler: firms are ranked _exclusively_ on their size (# of attorneys). That's it. Easy, right?
Well, without knowing anything about law firms, those metrics sound pretty unrelated. But size often brings prestige and cash, so the top of the top are often the same. The rankings miss a lot of things though:
1) New York City is without a doubt the legal capitol of the world in terms of law firms. As a result firms there are much larger and often pay much more. This means that the NLJ 250 is disproportionately NY centric - it is often claimed that especially in California otherwise well paying and well respected firms don't make the cut since they're not as mammoth.
2) Some firms are extremely well known, pay associates huge amounts of $$$, but are fairly small. Two good examples are Wachtell and Williams & Connolly. The former pays market (~$160 last year) in NYC but gives bonuses that are often near 100% of base sallary (in exchange for ridiculous hours, of course). The latter has the highest starting associate salary - last year $180,000 - but does not pay bonuses. W&C is DC based and has very high profile cases - they defended Bill Clinton, for example.
Why did I pick out those two firms? Because they are comparatively tiny on the NLJ list, Wachtell is #187 - and W&C is #181. Firm size thus can't be an out-and-out proxy for prestige or salary, so we know we're working with flawed data.
3) 250 is a lot of firms - towards the bottom, firm sizes are all right around 200 attorneys and salary varies widely. I don't know why they picked 250 firms, but they did - and since a lot of our data comes via the NLJ 250, we have to work with it.
The most widely sourced data for how well a law school places their graduates comes from NLJ surveys. Here are the links:
Class of 2005, comprehensive data: http://pdfserver.amlaw.com/nlj/20080414 ... trends.pdf
(lest you feel too strongly that you're getting a sense for how to read this data, they also have another chart that is totally different also purporting to be C/O 2005: http://pdfserver.amlaw.com/nlj/20080414 ... trends.pdf
Additionally, we have the following more brief data for C/O 2008:
And before we seriously start crunching numbers, remember the #1 piece of data to look at before starting law school: The bi-modal salary distribution: