Alumni Network National Reach

The figures below give the results of a small study on the "national reach" of alumni networks for the Top 30 law schools as ranked by US News & World Report. These schools are more or less the ones that seem to have any sort of reasonable claim to "national" reputations, reach, and placement success. Most are held in high regard by lawyers and judges. But a brief survey of where their alumni wind up working shows some striking differences between them. If you place high value on having reliable connections with alumni in any region where you may want to work, then you might want to consider which schools seem to place graduates widely in every region, rather than attracting or producing alumni who wind up working mainly in the school's backyard.

This study compares the distribution of alumni from each school to the overall distribution of lawyers across ten major regions. Note that I split the region labeled as "South Atlantic" by US News and in certain other studies into two regions. I did this to ensure that each region included no more than one very large state or major legal market: California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, New York, and DC. This should make the results more useful for people interested in only one major market. The study tests how close each school's distribution of alumni is to the "ideal" of a curve perfectly matching the national distribution of all lawyers across different regions. The test used to compare school distributions with the national distribution is a common statistical method known as a "Chi-Square" or "Goodness of Fit" test. Basically this measures the skew or mis-fit between two curves. The first observation is that all of the school distributions have statistically significant differences from the national curve, meaning that none of them are in fact a "good" fit. So the ranking of schools using this method is really more of a "Least Badness of Fit" method.

Keep several things in mind when you consider the results: 1) This is a simple and blunt survey, based on nothing more than a count of all lawyers listed as practicing in a given region on the Martindale Lawyer Locator; 2) No effort is made to consider anything about the practice settings, salaries, prestige, or other factors of the jobs that listed attorneys perform; and 3) This survey does not (and can not) discriminate between graduates who choose to work in a certain region and those who just can't find work elsewhere.

Other studies have treated the question of how well certain schools perform in placing their graduates at "elite firms," and whether they do so only in one region or in all. Because the data here include all graduates and not just those placed in elite firms, this study might provide a more representative picture of the prospects or outcomes for all graduates of a school, rather than for top ranking graduates only, who are the ones most often hired by top firms. But the results probably imply no reliable conclusion about which schools give their graduates the best or broadest choices of where to work after graduation. They only reliably show in what region graduates actually wind up working, whether by choice or by other circumstance.

If you use the results as intended -- to judge alumni network "reach" -- then it doesn't really matter why graduates go where they go. A more "regional" concentration of alumni has the same effect whether graduates choose to stay or just can't leave. Either way, it means you will have a thinner network of connections outside of regions where graduates cluster, which you may see as a negative if you think that your school's alumni network will provide a valuable source of opportunity after you graduate. It may also mean that fewer lawyers and judges nationwide will get to know and be impressed by alumni of a school with a network concentrated in one region, perhaps implying that this school will not be as well known or well regarded in regions where few alumni choose to or are able to settle.

National Distribution

Raw Data

Of the schools surveyed, Harvard had the largest number of alumni listed in the directory (just short of 18,000), and Washington & Lee had the smallest (around 2,700). Texas had the most graduates in any one region -- more than 11,000 in the West South Central. The University of Washington had the fewest, with just 10 lonely alumni in the East South Central.

Scaled Data

This table ranks schools by the maximum number of attorneys per 1,000 working in any region (i.e. the peak of the curve for each school). The scaled distributions based on N/1,000 allow easier plotting and ensure that the test for goodness of fit is comparable between schools. The numbers can be read as percentages if divided by ten. Around 81% of graduates from Texas work in the West South Central region, for instance. Light green marks regions where a plurality (25 - 49%) of graduates from a school work. Bright green marks regions where a majority (50%+) wind up. Red marks regions where a school has placed less than 1% of alumni.


This table ranks schools by the degree of skew (X) between their alumni distribution curve and the overall distribution of lawyers working in each region. Large values (>80) are highlighted in green (over-representation) or red (under-representation). I picked 80 as the cutoff just because that is close to the largest skew in any region for Yale -- the school which had the lowest maximum skew (though Harvard had the lowest total skew). The absolute magnitude of the numbers is only meaningful in comparing schools, and has no inherent meaning.


Numbers from the Scaled Data table plotted in graphic form for the Top 10, Middle 10, and Bottom 10 schools, sorted in increasing order by skew or decreasing order by "nationality" of their alumni networks.

Top 10

Middle 10

Bottom 10

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