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The Financial Rewards of Elite Status in the Legal Profession

December 2018

From Law & Social Inquiry

This article focuses on the role of intergenerational status attainment for legal careers. By decomposing the earnings gap between elite and nonelite lawyers at two points in their careers, we find that inherited cultural capital produces an earnings advantage as soon as lawyers begin their careers and that this gap persists over time. We further find that the processes underlying this gap change as lawyers make their way through the profession. While in early careers, the elite advantage is due to stronger starting endowments, the advantage for junior lawyers results from a more complex process, which combines starting endowments, professional capital gained during the first years of practice, and the rate at which endowments are differentially rewarded in the profession. Elaborating on work that identifies the importance of maintaining and concentrating diverse forms of capital in the legal profession, we explain the process through which elite lawyers gain and retain their advantage over time.