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The legal myth of thirds is the belief that each graduating class of law students can be divided into thirds where the top third end up becoming law professors, the middle third become judges and the bottom third become lawyers. Such discourse is indicative of a meritocratic society and a 2014 survey done at a small New England law school found that 36.9% of respondents (N=92) have indeed heard that this was the case. The authors feel that the mere existence of such a rumor suggests that there is concern regarding intra-professional stratification. Using data from the American Bar Foundation’s After the J.D. (AJD) study we seek to evaluate this rumor empirically and determine whether it is in fact a myth or whether such intra-professional stratification is limited to certain types of legal employment. Based on the second wave, our findings indicate that this myth indeed lacks any factual basis. However, beyond investigating the validity of the legal myth of thirds itself, we also seek to illuminate what trends, if any, exist within intra-professional stratification that affects meritocratic social organization. Thus, the implications of this study go beyond the scope of the mythic theory-judicial-practice divide. Our work also makes important contributions to theoretical arguments about meritocracy and equal opportunity through educational attainment, long seen as the primary means to overcoming adversity and achieving the American dream.


Citation information: Raphael, Michael W. and Tanesha A. Thomas. “Do Law School Outcomes Follow the Legal Myth of Thirds?: An Analysis of the After the J.D. Study.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, Chicago, IL.



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