Always-provocative lawblogger Vivia Chen's recent post "Too good for Big Law" has drawn a fair bit of attention. She notes work by our very own Bill Henderson (using data from the NLJ) suggesting that associate to partner odds -- that is, the ratio of Biglaw associates hired from a particular law school to Biglaw partners from the same school -- for many elite / T14 schools are lower than those for lower-tier places.
Bill responded with his usual meticulousness at the Legal Whiteboard, offering the "statistician edition" of the Careerist post. After a suitable discussion of the potential caveats, he does a nice job of rounding up a range of possible explanations for this finding. At Above the Law, David Lat casts his vote for "Selection Effects," "Inter-Generational Privilege," and "A Better Plan B" as the most likely drivers among among BH's explanations. And Bruce MacEwen at Adam Smith Esq. lays out the data in all its glory, and has some thoughtful ruminations on why we might not want to take the results too seriously, and why (and how) we might. There's also an exposition at TaxProfBlog. For its part, the NLJ offers an interactive chart that puts some of their data in visual form (including tuition for the schools in question).
Of course, I just couldn't help myself from digging into the data a little. All of the commenters above make the point that, for this comparison to work, the numbers cannot be changing much from year to year; for example, at one point Henderson says "I analyzed this same data four years ago and got essentially the same results." So I found the same NLJ data from 2010, and did a little comparison.
The vertical axis correspond to the (2011) percentages listed at Bruce M's post; the horizontal one is the same numbers for 2010. (My UH number is a bit different from his, but the others are spot-on). Red "Xs" are the "Top 14" law schools, while black dots are the rest; I labeled a few of the outliers. The data are noisy: the simple (Pearson) correlation between the two years is 0.32. But the correlation is driven almost entirely by the difference between elite and non-elite schools: the correlation among non-elite schools only is 0.06, while that among elite schools only is a paltry 0.02. Moreover, the aggregate differences between Top 14 and non-Top 14 schools are large, averaging 17.2% vs. 28% in 2010 and 15.9% vs. 40.5% in 2011.
So, while the data are noisy, the larger pattern still holds: More elite schools have consistently lower "partner yield rates" than do less elite, tier-one schools. While this doesn't begin to get at the various reasons why this might be happening, it does lend some support to the idea that there's something here worth looking into.