Top law firms are known for long hours, cut-throat competition, and charging packs of eager young attorneys. But which firms have earned the strongest reputations among peers, clients, and young legal eagles themselves?
Career resource Vault has been creating their annual Law 100 ranking since 1996. Using the reviews of 17,000 law firm associates, Vault ranks firms on a scale of one to 10, according to associates’ perceptions of the firms’ “prestige.” Respondents are not allowed to rank their own firms and are asked to comment only on those firms with which they are familiar.
The ranking provides valuable information both to candidates contemplating the search for a summer associate position, as well as to the firms themselves and their clients.
“Our goal is to really help people figure out what makes the most sense for them in terms of where they’re going to go,” said Nicole Weber, Law Editor at Vault.com, “but it’s also a way for clients of these firms to determine where they fall in terms of the perception of their peers in the legal community.”
Nabbing the top spot for the twelfth year in a row is Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, which one respondent identified as being known for “great prestige, great money, and great work.”
The New York-based firm is known for handling “a significant chunk of the world’s dealmaking-major mergers and acquisitions, antitrust and shareholder litigation, big name restructurings and multi-billion-dollar real estate ventures,” and co-founder Lipton is known for having created the “poison pill,” a means of protecting shareholders’ rights.
Two-year runner up Cravath, Swaine & Moore gained on Wachtell, narrowing its margin from 0.087 to 0.021, and being described by one respondent as ”the gold standard” and a “corporate icon along with Wachtell.”
“The Top 100 list remains generally consistent from year-to-year, but no firm is infallible,” said Weber. “We are seeing innovators climb slowly toward the top. Firms like Boies Schiller, Cahill Gordon, and Quinn Emanuel continue to attract the most sophisticated work and clients due to their demonstrated expertise in unique practice areas, and they are well-known for breaking the mold with respect to internal issues such as company culture and compensation.”
In a narrative familiar to other industries as well, the rise of major technology firms had a strong impact on which law firms are garnering the most prestige. The greatest leap in the ranking was made by Cooley, which jumped 10 spots into the top 50. The Palo Alto-based firm is known for its work in technology and life sciences and handled 23 IPOs in the past year, raising more than $8.4 billion.
The firm was described by peer attorneys as “entrepreneurial,” “a leader in its area,” and “tech savvy.”
Weber says it’s likely firms like Cooley that have a high profile in Silicon Valley and strong relationships with venture capital funds and startups will continue to rise through the rankings over the next several years.
“If you have a law firm that’s established themselves as the best place to go for that kind of work–transactions, litigation–you’re going to see that firm get more visibility. ‘Who’s representing Facebook? Who’s representing Yelp YELP -4.76%!? Who’s representing LinkedIn LNKD -3.21%?’ That can be eye-catching.”
The Top 10 Most Prestigious Law Firms
1. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
2. Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP
3. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates
4. Sullivan & Cromwell LLP
5. Davis Polk & Wardell LLP
6. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP
7. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
8. Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP
9. Kirkland & Ellis LLP
10. Latham & Watkins LLP