His new book Outliers isn’t out for another month, but today Malcolm Gladwell might justly bask in that warm glow arising from confirmation bias. The mismatch problem, you’ll recall, is that we have no idea what we’re doing when we try to measure talent before it’s been put to actual use. Scouts fail to identify diamonds in the rough among draftees because they believe they can correlate success with a set of easily tested attributes–how high you jump, how fast you run and so on. The problem is, these attributes have little or no correlation with superior future performance. Or, as William Blake so eloquently put it, the tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
Now the ABA Law Journal has some good news for Gladwell’s thesis. A study by an unnamed top 25 law firm suggests that law school rank and GPA are worthless as predictors of future big law success. Harvard Law? Who cares! Yale? A nice credential to fulfill your quest after years and years of application-review servility, but now…who cares! As one of the study’s authors, Ron Paquette, tells the ABA Journal, “The Harvard attorneys do not perform any better than those at the 30th-ranked law school.” (The study defined success as longer tenure at the firm, higher productivity, and being a good cultural fit.)
However, the authors do claim to have found some counterintuitive correlates for success. Among them are involvement in community groups or even participation in college athletics. In some ways this is obvious. I’ve always thought the frat house prez would make a great lawyer.