Some people dream of becoming a lawyer so that they can serve the public interest and make a positive impact on the world.

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Other people dream of becoming a lawyer because they want to get rich.
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In the wake of the great recession there has been a ton of media coverage breathlessly declaring that law schools and, indeed, the entire legal profession, was in a state of “crisis.” And yes, there are still plenty of bad law schools out there (I’m looking at you, Cooley), but today I want to take a look at the other end of the spectrum.

Nearly 10% of the Forbes 400 have law degrees and at least one lawyer became a billionaire by practicing law

And although you probably aren’t going to be the next attorney to win over $13 billion in settlements over the course of your career, there are still plenty of lawyers earning a very nice salary, even as a first year attorney.

According to NALP, nearly 1 in 5 new graduates from the class of 2017 were working in lucrative BigLaw jobs.

What is Biglaw?

The term “BigLaw” is used to refer to the largest law firms in the country. For the purposes of this article, let’s focus exclusively on the very largest BigLaw firms: the mega-firms that employ 251 or more attorneys.

The table below details the distribution of starting salaries for the class of 2017. BigLaw jobs are highlighted in blue.

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Note that the median BigLaw starting salary is $180,000 – which is just over THREE TIMES more than the $58,000 median starting salary at small firms of 1-10 attorneys.

Starting Salary By Firm Size

Firm Size25th %ile50th %ile75th %ileAverage
1-10$50,000$58,000$70,000$60,270
11-25$55,000$67,750$80,000$71,069
26-50$65,000$78,000$90,000$81,690
51-100$73,000$90,000$120,000$99,222
101-250$90,000$120,000$155,000$120,666
251-500$120,000$180,000$180,000$151,795
501+$180,000$180,000$180,000$171,628

Interestingly, most lawyers in private practice end up at one extreme or the other. The table & graph below illustrate just how polarized the legal market is.

The bimodal salary distribution results in two large clusters at either end of the salary/firm size spectrum, with relatively few jobs in between.

Private Practice Jobs by Firm Size

Firm Size# of attorneys% of total
Solo Practitioner4082.49%
1-105,79335.34%
11-251,69710.35%
26-501,0016.11%
51-1007974.86%
101-2509655.89%
251-5001,0096.16%
501+4,61028.13%
Unknown1100.67%
TOTAL16390100.00%

What Law Schools Do BigLaw Firms Hire From?

If you want to break into BigLaw, you’ve gotta go to the right school.

The table below ranks law schools strictly on the basis of how successful the school was at placing students in BigLaw jobs or federal clerkships. I’ve included federal clerkships here, since they are often even more prestigious and competitive than BigLaw jobs, which will almost certainly be waiting for these students after their clerkship is over.

Biglaw Rank % Biglaw Name # Biglaw Bound # Total Grads USNews Rank City State
1 88.10% University of Chicago 185 210 4 Chicago IL
2 83.65% Columbia University 353 422 5 New York NY
3 78.08% Duke University 171 219 11 Durham NC
4 77.43% University of Virginia 223 288 9 Charlottesville VA
5 77.01% Stanford University 144 187 2 Stanford CA
6 76.77% University of Pennsylvania 195 254 7 Philadelphia PA
7 76.68% Cornell University 148 193 13 Ithaca NY
8 74.79% Harvard University 445 595 3 Cambridge MA
9 73.42% New York University 348 474 6 New York NY
10 69.33% Northwestern University 165 238 11 Chicago IL
11 68.42% University of Michigan—Ann Arbor 221 323 8 Ann Arbor MI
12 66.11% University of California—Berkeley 197 298 9 Berkeley CA
13 64.91% Vanderbilt University 111 171 17 Nashville TN
14 63.21% Yale University 134 212 1 New Haven CT
15 58.93% Georgetown University 363 616 14 Washington DC
16 46.51% University of California — Irvine 40 86 21 Irvine CA
17 45.08% University of Southern California (Gould) 87 193 19 Los Angeles CA
18 44.82% University of Texas—Austin 134 299 15 Austin TX
19 43.73% Fordham University 136 311 37 New York NY
20 43.57% Washington University at St. Louis 105 241 18 St. Louis MO
21 42.93% Boston University 82 191 22 Boston MA
22 40.18% University of California—Los Angeles 135 336 16 Los Angeles CA
23 38.43% Boston College 83 216 27 Newton MA
24 37.63% University of Notre Dame 73 194 24 Notre Dame IN
25 36.05% Howard University 31 86 128 Washington DC
26 32.40% George Washington University 173 534 24 Washington DC
27 32.16% University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill 55 171 45 Chapel Hill NC
28 30.71% University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign 39 127 37 Champaign IL
29 30.65% Emory University 80 261 22 Atlanta GA
30 29.41% William and Mary 55 187 37 Williamsburg VA
31 25.23% Southern Methodist University (Dedman) 55 218 50 Dallas TX
32 22.76% University of Alabama 28 123 27 Tuscaloosa AL
33 22.44% Tulane University 35 156 54 New Orleans LA
34 21.66% Ohio State University (Moritz) 34 157 32 Columbus OH
35 21.40% University of California (Hastings) 49 229 58 San Francisco CA
36 20.65% Indiana University—Bloomington (Maurer) 32 155 32 Bloomington IN
37 20.63% Loyola University Chicago 39 189 74 Chicago IL
38 20.21% Catholic University of America 19 94 110 Washington DC
39 19.80% University of Houston 40 202 56 Houston TX
40 19.60% Temple University (Beasley) 39 199 47 Philadelphia PA
41 18.87% University of Washington 30 159 32 Seattle WA
42 18.75% George Mason University 27 144 41 Arlington VA
43 18.60% Washington and Lee University 16 86 26 Lexington VA
44 18.04% University of Minnesota—Twin Cities 35 194 20 Minneapolis MN
45 17.78% University of Richmond (Williams) 24 135 50 University of Richmond VA
46 17.73% Villanova University 25 141 65 Villanova PA
47 17.71% West Virginia University 17 96 106 Morgantown WV
48 17.48% Brooklyn Law School 57 326 83 Brooklyn NY
49 17.32% University of Iowa 22 127 27 Iowa City IA
50 17.31% Yeshiva University (Cardozo) 45 260 56 New York NY
51 17.24% University of Cincinnati 10 58 65 Cincinnati OH
52 16.78% University of Florida (Levin) 48 286 41 Gainesville FL
53 16.67% University of Georgia 28 168 32 Athens GA
54 16.56% University of California—Davis 25 151 37 Davis CA
55 16.46% University of San Diego 27 164 95 San Diego CA
56 16.07% Wake Forest University 27 168 32 Winston-Salem NC
57 16.06% St. John’s University 31 193 83 Queens NY
58 15.93% Santa Clara University 18 113 113 Santa Clara CA
59 15.45% Baylor University 19 123 50 Waco TX
60 15.38% University of Maryland (Carey) 26 169 49 Baltimore MD
61 15.20% Georgia State University 26 171 65 Atlanta GA
62 15.13% University of Pittsburgh 18 119 74 Pittsburgh PA
63 14.89% University of Tennessee—Knoxville 14 94 65 Knoxville TN
64 14.62% Loyola Marymount University 38 260 65 Los Angeles CA
65 13.95% American University (Washington) 41 294 80 Washington DC
66 13.59% University of Kansas 14 103 74 Lawrence KS
67 13.36% University of Miami 31 232 65 Coral Gables FL
68 13.08% University of Kentucky 14 107 65 Lexington KY
69 12.24% Albany Law School 12 98 106 Albany NY
70 12.12% Pennsylvania State University Park 12 99 74 University Park PA
71 11.88% University of Arkansas—Fayetteville 12 101 88 Fayetteville AR
72 11.76% University of Louisville (Brandeis) 8 68 113 Louisville KY
73 11.64% Pepperdine University 22 189 59 Malibu CA
74 11.63% University of Memphis (Humphreys) 10 86 137 Memphis TN
75 11.58% University of Mississippi 11 95 101 University MS
76 11.41% University of Wisconsin—Madison 17 149 27 Madison WI
77 11.37% New York Law School 24 211 110 New York NY
78 11.30% Brigham Young University (Clark) 13 115 41 Provo UT
79 11.29% Case Western Reserve University 14 124 65 Cleveland OH
80 11.11% University of Colorado—Boulder 17 153 46 Boulder CO
81 10.88% Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago-Kent) 21 193 85 Chicago IL
82 10.81% University of Montana 8 74 119 Missoula MT
83 10.73% Hofstra University (Deane) 22 205 110 Hempstead NY
84 10.62% Drexel University 12 113 101 Philadelphia PA
85 10.49% Seton Hall University 17 162 59 Newark NJ
86 10.42% St. Louis University 15 144 88 St. Louis MO
87 10.37% University of Connecticut 14 135 50 Hartford CT
88 10.34% University of New Hampshire 6 58 85 Concord NH
88 10.34% University of Wyoming 6 58 133 Laramie WY
90 10.00% University of Oregon 9 90 85 Eugene OR
91 9.84% DePaul University 18 183 128 Chicago IL
92 9.57% University of Arizona (Rogers) 11 115 41 Tucson AZ
93 9.38% Northeastern University 12 128 74 Boston MA
94 9.33% Suffolk University 25 268 144 Boston MA
95 9.23% Syracuse University 12 130 88 Syracuse NY
96 9.22% Rutgers—Newark 32 347 74 Newark NJ
97 9.09% Penn State Dickinson 5 55 59 Carlisle PA
98 8.40% University of Nevada—Las Vegas 10 119 59 Las Vegas NV
99 8.20% Arizona State University (O’Connor) 15 183 27 Phoenix AZ
100 8.15% University of South Carolina 15 184 88 Columbia SC
101 8.05% Creighton University 7 87 125 Omaha NE
102 7.76% Stetson University 19 245 98 Gulfport FL
103 7.73% Michigan State University 16 207 88 East Lansing MI
104 7.69% Mercer University (George) 8 104 128 Macon GA
105 7.45% LSU — Baton Rouge (Hebert) 12 161 88 Baton Rouge LA
106 7.41% Seattle University 14 189 128 Seattle WA
107 7.22% University of Nebraska—Lincoln 7 97 80 Lincoln NE
108 7.14% University of Missouri—Kansas City 9 126 119 Kansas City MO
109 6.96% Duquesne University 8 115 119 Pittsburgh PA
110 6.85% Quinnipiac University 5 73 133 Hamden CT
111 6.77% SUNY Buffalo Law School 9 133 106 Buffalo NY
112 6.62% University of Detroit Mercy School of Law 9 136 NR Detroit MI
113 6.61% University of Denver (Sturm) 15 227 63 Denver CO
114 6.48% Loyola University New Orleans 7 108 NR New Orleans LA
115 6.45% University of Missouri 6 93 65 Columbia MO
116 6.25% Washburn University 5 80 119 Topeka KS
117 6.12% Wayne State University 6 98 98 Detroit MI
118 6.11% Florida State University 11 180 47 Tallahassee FL
119 6.09% University of San Francisco 7 115 NR San Francisco CA
120 5.81% Marquette University 10 172 95 Milwaukee WI
121 5.59% New England Law— Boston 9 161 NR Boston MA
122 5.29% Southwestern Law School 12 227 NR Los Angeles CA
123 5.26% University of Dayton 4 76 141 Dayton OH
123 5.26% University of South Dakota 3 57 128 Vermillion SD
125 5.17% Ave Maria School of Law 3 58 NR Naples FL
126 5.15% Cleveland State University 5 97 113 Cleveland OH
127 5.13% Northern Kentucky University 4 78 NR Highland Heights KY
127 5.13% Pace University 8 156 125 White Plains NY
129 5.10% Indiana University—Indianapolis (McKinney) 10 196 98 Indianapolis IN
130 5.00% University of La Verne College of Law 1 20 NR Ontario CA
131 4.96% Samford University (Cumberland) 6 121 NR Birmingham AL
132 4.88% Drake University 4 82 133 Des Moines IA
133 4.79% University of Oklahoma 7 146 63 Norman OK
134 4.72% South Texas College of Law 11 233 NR Houston TX
135 4.71% Southern Illinois University Carbondale 4 85 NR Carbondale IL
136 4.55% University of Toledo 3 66 137 Toledo OH
137 4.53% John Marshall Law School 11 243 NR Chicago IL
138 4.44% Mississippi College School of Law 4 90 NR Jackson MS
139 4.40% Widener University Delaware 4 91 NR Wilmington DE
140 4.30% University of New Mexico 4 93 88 Albuquerque NM
141 4.26% Ohio Northern University (Pettit) 2 47 NR Ada OH
142 4.22% Texas Tech University 7 166 113 Lubbock TX
143 4.17% Campbell University 5 120 NR Raleigh NC
143 4.17% Lewis & Clark College (Northwestern) 6 144 95 Portland OR
145 4.08% Liberty University School of Law 2 49 NR Lynchburg VA
146 4.00% Texas A&M University 6 150 80 Fort Worth TX
147 3.97% California Western School of Law 6 151 NR San Diego CA
148 3.85% Texas Southern University–Thurgood Marshall 4 104 NR Houston TX
149 3.61% Willamette University (Collins) 3 83 NR Salem OR
150 3.57% University of Utah (Quinney) 4 112 54 Salt Lake City UT
151 3.55% Florida International University 5 141 101 Miami FL
152 3.17% Golden Gate University School of Law 2 63 NR San Francisco CA
153 3.10% North Carolina Central University School of Law 4 129 NR Durham NC
154 3.03% Appalachian School of Law 1 33 NR Grundy VA
154 3.03% Capital University Law School 3 99 NR Columbus OH
156 2.97% Vermont Law School 3 101 133 South Royalton VT
157 2.94% Florida A&M University College of Law 3 102 NR Orlando FL
157 2.94% Regent University School of Law 2 68 NR Virginia Beach VA
159 2.91% Nova Southeastern University–Shepard Broad College of Law 5 172 NR Fort Lauderdale FL
160 2.86% Belmont University College of Law 2 70 139 Nashville TN
161 2.55% University of Baltimore 5 196 119 Baltimore MD
162 2.48% St. Mary’s University 4 161 NR San Antonio TX
163 2.47% University of Tulsa 2 81 101 Tulsa OK
164 2.35% Valparaiso University Law School 2 85 NR Valparaiso IN
165 2.34% Mitchell Hamline 5 214 NR St. Paul MN
166 1.92% University of Arkansas—Little Rock (Bowen) 2 104 141 Little Rock AR
167 1.90% University of the Pacific (McGeorge) 2 105 NR Sacramento CA
168 1.89% Widener University Commonwealth 1 53 143 Harrisburg PA
169 1.81% Florida Coastal School of Law 3 166 NR Jacksonville FL
170 1.79% University of North Dakota 1 56 NR Grand Forks ND
170 1.79% Western State College of Law at Argosy 1 56 NR Irvine CA
172 1.74% Chapman University (Fowler) 2 115 139 Orange CA
173 1.72% Elon University School of Law 1 58 NR Greensboro NC
174 1.69% Northern Illinois University College of Law 1 59 144 DeKalb IL
175 1.52% Faulkner University 1 66 NR Montgomery AL
176 1.27% Western New England University 1 79 NR Springfield MA
177 1.22% CUNY 1 82 125 Long Island City NY
177 1.22% University of Idaho 1 82 119 Moscow ID
179 1.15% Western Michigan University (Cooley) 3 261 NR Lansing MI
180 1.04% Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School 1 96 NR Atlanta GA
181 0.94% University of Akron 1 106 144 Akron OH
182 0.89% University of St. Thomas 1 112 113 Minneapolis MN
183 0.85% Southern University Law Center 1 117 NR Baton Rouge LA
184 0.75% Barry University 1 134 NR Orlando FL
185 0.00% Charleston School of Law 0 81 NR Charleston SC
185 0.00% Concordia University School of Law 0 22 NR Boise ID
185 0.00% University of the District of Columbia 0 58 NR Washington DC
185 0.00% Gonzaga University 0 89 113 Spokane WA
185 0.00% University of Hawaii—Manoa (Richardson) 0 96 101 Honolulu HI
185 0.00% Inter American University School of Law 0 135 NR San Juan PR
185 0.00% Lincoln Memorial University 0 14 NR Knoxville TN
185 0.00% University of Maine 0 69 106 Portland ME
185 0.00% Oklahoma City University 0 113 NR Oklahoma City OK
185 0.00% Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, School of Law 0 61 NR Ponce PR
185 0.00% University of Puerto Rico 0 104 NR San Juan PR
185 0.00% Roger Williams University School of Law 0 95 NR Bristol RI
185 0.00% Thomas Jefferson School of Law 0 93 NR San Diego CA
185 0.00% Touro College–Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center 0 138 NR Central Islip NY
185 0.00% University of Massachusetts–Dartmouth 0 44 NR North Dartmouth MA

My alma mater, UChicago, tops the chart at #1 with an impressive 88% of the class of 2017 working in BigLaw.

The drop off is pretty sharp as we make our way down the rankings, however. Only 15 law schools send more than half of their class into BigLaw jobs, and only about 30 schools total send more than 25% of their class into BigLaw jobs.


Most attorneys practice law because it gives them a grand and glorious feeling. You give them a grand – and they feel glorious.

MILTON BERLE 

I improved my score by 25 points and got a 177 on the LSAT.

Here's How I Did It

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