Welcome to the Club: The Returns to an Elite Degree for American Lawyers

Welcome to the Club: The Returns to an Elite Degree for American Lawyers

By Paul Oyer, Scott Schaefer
December 2012Working Paper No. 3044

Competition for seats in elite U.S. graduate school programs has intensified

dramatically over the past 40 years. In this paper, we study the market for

young attorneys to illuminate the role that elite graduate programs play in

human capital development. We find that attorneys who graduate from law

schools ranked in the top ten nationally earn considerably more than those

without such a qualification, even compared to attorneys who graduate from

schools ranked 11-20. The premium to an elite education carries over to an

attorney’s undergraduate institution as well, and we find that elite

bachelors and elite law degrees appear to be close substitutes in terms of

their effects on salaries. We compare our findings to the broader literature

on the returns to attending a selective college, and find that the

elite-law-school premium is more robust to various methods for correcting

for selection on ability than the broader premium to attending a selective

college. We discuss several potential reasons for why an elite school

premium may exist in this labor market.