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

$$$$$
Other people dream of becoming a lawyer because they want to get rich.
$$$$$

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% BiglawName# Biglaw Bound# Total GradsUSNews RankCityState
188.10%University of Chicago1852104ChicagoIL
283.65%Columbia University3534225New YorkNY
378.08%Duke University17121911DurhamNC
477.43%University of Virginia2232889CharlottesvilleVA
577.01%Stanford University1441872StanfordCA
676.77%University of Pennsylvania1952547PhiladelphiaPA
776.68%Cornell University14819313IthacaNY
874.79%Harvard University4455953CambridgeMA
973.42%New York University3484746New YorkNY
1069.33%Northwestern University16523811ChicagoIL
1168.42%University of Michigan—Ann Arbor2213238Ann ArborMI
1266.11%University of California—Berkeley1972989BerkeleyCA
1364.91%Vanderbilt University11117117NashvilleTN
1463.21%Yale University1342121New HavenCT
1558.93%Georgetown University36361614WashingtonDC
1646.51%University of California — Irvine408621IrvineCA
1745.08%University of Southern California (Gould)8719319Los AngelesCA
1844.82%University of Texas—Austin13429915AustinTX
1943.73%Fordham University13631137New YorkNY
2043.57%Washington University at St. Louis10524118St. LouisMO
2142.93%Boston University8219122BostonMA
2240.18%University of California—Los Angeles13533616Los AngelesCA
2338.43%Boston College8321627NewtonMA
2437.63%University of Notre Dame7319424Notre DameIN
2536.05%Howard University3186128WashingtonDC
2632.40%George Washington University17353424WashingtonDC
2732.16%University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill5517145Chapel HillNC
2830.71%University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign3912737ChampaignIL
2930.65%Emory University8026122AtlantaGA
3029.41%William and Mary5518737WilliamsburgVA
3125.23%Southern Methodist University (Dedman)5521850DallasTX
3222.76%University of Alabama2812327TuscaloosaAL
3322.44%Tulane University3515654New OrleansLA
3421.66%Ohio State University (Moritz)3415732ColumbusOH
3521.40%University of California (Hastings)4922958San FranciscoCA
3620.65%Indiana University—Bloomington (Maurer)3215532BloomingtonIN
3720.63%Loyola University Chicago3918974ChicagoIL
3820.21%Catholic University of America1994110WashingtonDC
3919.80%University of Houston4020256HoustonTX
4019.60%Temple University (Beasley)3919947PhiladelphiaPA
4118.87%University of Washington3015932SeattleWA
4218.75%George Mason University2714441ArlingtonVA
4318.60%Washington and Lee University168626LexingtonVA
4418.04%University of Minnesota—Twin Cities3519420MinneapolisMN
4517.78%University of Richmond (Williams)2413550University of RichmondVA
4617.73%Villanova University2514165VillanovaPA
4717.71%West Virginia University1796106MorgantownWV
4817.48%Brooklyn Law School5732683BrooklynNY
4917.32%University of Iowa2212727Iowa CityIA
5017.31%Yeshiva University (Cardozo)4526056New YorkNY
5117.24%University of Cincinnati105865CincinnatiOH
5216.78%University of Florida (Levin)4828641GainesvilleFL
5316.67%University of Georgia2816832AthensGA
5416.56%University of California—Davis2515137DavisCA
5516.46%University of San Diego2716495San DiegoCA
5616.07%Wake Forest University2716832Winston-SalemNC
5716.06%St. John’s University3119383QueensNY
5815.93%Santa Clara University18113113Santa ClaraCA
5915.45%Baylor University1912350WacoTX
6015.38%University of Maryland (Carey)2616949BaltimoreMD
6115.20%Georgia State University2617165AtlantaGA
6215.13%University of Pittsburgh1811974PittsburghPA
6314.89%University of Tennessee—Knoxville149465KnoxvilleTN
6414.62%Loyola Marymount University3826065Los AngelesCA
6513.95%American University (Washington)4129480WashingtonDC
6613.59%University of Kansas1410374LawrenceKS
6713.36%University of Miami3123265Coral GablesFL
6813.08%University of Kentucky1410765LexingtonKY
6912.24%Albany Law School1298106AlbanyNY
7012.12%Pennsylvania State University Park129974University ParkPA
7111.88%University of Arkansas—Fayetteville1210188FayettevilleAR
7211.76%University of Louisville (Brandeis)868113LouisvilleKY
7311.64%Pepperdine University2218959MalibuCA
7411.63%University of Memphis (Humphreys)1086137MemphisTN
7511.58%University of Mississippi1195101UniversityMS
7611.41%University of Wisconsin—Madison1714927MadisonWI
7711.37%New York Law School24211110New YorkNY
7811.30%Brigham Young University (Clark)1311541ProvoUT
7911.29%Case Western Reserve University1412465ClevelandOH
8011.11%University of Colorado—Boulder1715346BoulderCO
8110.88%Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago-Kent)2119385ChicagoIL
8210.81%University of Montana874119MissoulaMT
8310.73%Hofstra University (Deane)22205110HempsteadNY
8410.62%Drexel University12113101PhiladelphiaPA
8510.49%Seton Hall University1716259NewarkNJ
8610.42%St. Louis University1514488St. LouisMO
8710.37%University of Connecticut1413550HartfordCT
8810.34%University of New Hampshire65885ConcordNH
8810.34%University of Wyoming658133LaramieWY
9010.00%University of Oregon99085EugeneOR
919.84%DePaul University18183128ChicagoIL
929.57%University of Arizona (Rogers)1111541TucsonAZ
939.38%Northeastern University1212874BostonMA
949.33%Suffolk University25268144BostonMA
959.23%Syracuse University1213088SyracuseNY
969.22%Rutgers—Newark3234774NewarkNJ
979.09%Penn State Dickinson55559CarlislePA
988.40%University of Nevada—Las Vegas1011959Las VegasNV
998.20%Arizona State University (O’Connor)1518327PhoenixAZ
1008.15%University of South Carolina1518488ColumbiaSC
1018.05%Creighton University787125OmahaNE
1027.76%Stetson University1924598GulfportFL
1037.73%Michigan State University1620788East LansingMI
1047.69%Mercer University (George)8104128MaconGA
1057.45%LSU — Baton Rouge (Hebert)1216188Baton RougeLA
1067.41%Seattle University14189128SeattleWA
1077.22%University of Nebraska—Lincoln79780LincolnNE
1087.14%University of Missouri—Kansas City9126119Kansas CityMO
1096.96%Duquesne University8115119PittsburghPA
1106.85%Quinnipiac University573133HamdenCT
1116.77%SUNY Buffalo Law School9133106BuffaloNY
1126.62%University of Detroit Mercy School of Law9136NRDetroitMI
1136.61%University of Denver (Sturm)1522763DenverCO
1146.48%Loyola University New Orleans7108NRNew OrleansLA
1156.45%University of Missouri69365ColumbiaMO
1166.25%Washburn University580119TopekaKS
1176.12%Wayne State University69898DetroitMI
1186.11%Florida State University1118047TallahasseeFL
1196.09%University of San Francisco7115NRSan FranciscoCA
1205.81%Marquette University1017295MilwaukeeWI
1215.59%New England Law— Boston9161NRBostonMA
1225.29%Southwestern Law School12227NRLos AngelesCA
1235.26%University of Dayton476141DaytonOH
1235.26%University of South Dakota357128VermillionSD
1255.17%Ave Maria School of Law358NRNaplesFL
1265.15%Cleveland State University597113ClevelandOH
1275.13%Northern Kentucky University478NRHighland HeightsKY
1275.13%Pace University8156125White PlainsNY
1295.10%Indiana University—Indianapolis (McKinney)1019698IndianapolisIN
1305.00%University of La Verne College of Law120NROntarioCA
1314.96%Samford University (Cumberland)6121NRBirminghamAL
1324.88%Drake University482133Des MoinesIA
1334.79%University of Oklahoma714663NormanOK
1344.72%South Texas College of Law11233NRHoustonTX
1354.71%Southern Illinois University Carbondale485NRCarbondaleIL
1364.55%University of Toledo366137ToledoOH
1374.53%John Marshall Law School11243NRChicagoIL
1384.44%Mississippi College School of Law490NRJacksonMS
1394.40%Widener University Delaware491NRWilmingtonDE
1404.30%University of New Mexico49388AlbuquerqueNM
1414.26%Ohio Northern University (Pettit)247NRAdaOH
1424.22%Texas Tech University7166113LubbockTX
1434.17%Campbell University5120NRRaleighNC
1434.17%Lewis & Clark College (Northwestern)614495PortlandOR
1454.08%Liberty University School of Law249NRLynchburgVA
1464.00%Texas A&M University615080Fort WorthTX
1473.97%California Western School of Law6151NRSan DiegoCA
1483.85%Texas Southern University–Thurgood Marshall4104NRHoustonTX
1493.61%Willamette University (Collins)383NRSalemOR
1503.57%University of Utah (Quinney)411254Salt Lake CityUT
1513.55%Florida International University5141101MiamiFL
1523.17%Golden Gate University School of Law263NRSan FranciscoCA
1533.10%North Carolina Central University School of Law4129NRDurhamNC
1543.03%Appalachian School of Law133NRGrundyVA
1543.03%Capital University Law School399NRColumbusOH
1562.97%Vermont Law School3101133South RoyaltonVT
1572.94%Florida A&M University College of Law3102NROrlandoFL
1572.94%Regent University School of Law268NRVirginia BeachVA
1592.91%Nova Southeastern University–Shepard Broad College of Law5172NRFort LauderdaleFL
1602.86%Belmont University College of Law270139NashvilleTN
1612.55%University of Baltimore5196119BaltimoreMD
1622.48%St. Mary’s University4161NRSan AntonioTX
1632.47%University of Tulsa281101TulsaOK
1642.35%Valparaiso University Law School285NRValparaisoIN
1652.34%Mitchell Hamline5214NRSt. PaulMN
1661.92%University of Arkansas—Little Rock (Bowen)2104141Little RockAR
1671.90%University of the Pacific (McGeorge)2105NRSacramentoCA
1681.89%Widener University Commonwealth153143HarrisburgPA
1691.81%Florida Coastal School of Law3166NRJacksonvilleFL
1701.79%University of North Dakota156NRGrand ForksND
1701.79%Western State College of Law at Argosy156NRIrvineCA
1721.74%Chapman University (Fowler)2115139OrangeCA
1731.72%Elon University School of Law158NRGreensboroNC
1741.69%Northern Illinois University College of Law159144DeKalbIL
1751.52%Faulkner University166NRMontgomeryAL
1761.27%Western New England University179NRSpringfieldMA
1771.22%CUNY182125Long Island CityNY
1771.22%University of Idaho182119MoscowID
1791.15%Western Michigan University (Cooley)3261NRLansingMI
1801.04%Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School196NRAtlantaGA
1810.94%University of Akron1106144AkronOH
1820.89%University of St. Thomas1112113MinneapolisMN
1830.85%Southern University Law Center1117NRBaton RougeLA
1840.75%Barry University1134NROrlandoFL
1850.00%Charleston School of Law081NRCharlestonSC
1850.00%Concordia University School of Law022NRBoiseID
1850.00%University of the District of Columbia058NRWashingtonDC
1850.00%Gonzaga University089113SpokaneWA
1850.00%University of Hawaii—Manoa (Richardson)096101HonoluluHI
1850.00%Inter American University School of Law0135NRSan JuanPR
1850.00%Lincoln Memorial University014NRKnoxvilleTN
1850.00%University of Maine069106PortlandME
1850.00%Oklahoma City University0113NROklahoma CityOK
1850.00%Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, School of Law061NRPoncePR
1850.00%University of Puerto Rico0104NRSan JuanPR
1850.00%Roger Williams University School of Law095NRBristolRI
1850.00%Thomas Jefferson School of Law093NRSan DiegoCA
1850.00%Touro College–Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center0138NRCentral IslipNY
1850.00%University of Massachusetts–Dartmouth044NRNorth DartmouthMA

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 

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