Finally: The 2010 Law Firm Rankings

by Vault Law Editors | August 18, 2009

  • My Vault

The 2010 rankings show significant movement in the Top 10, with Latham & Watkins falling out, Weil Gotshal & Manges climbing from #9 to #6, and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom jumping over Sullivan & Cromwell to the #3 slot.

Released exactly according to plan: The new Vault Law Firm Rankings.

A little while back, Elie wrote, “New Vault rankings are coming out and either there will be a significant shake-up in the rankings or some people are going to lose there their ever-lovin' minds.” Well, “some people” may have to hassle their therapists out on the Vineyard: the rankings are fairly stable, despite the last year’s tumult. (And yesterday’s ‘technical glitch glitches.’) Particularly so closer to the top, where Wachtell—claiming the # 1 slot for the seventh straight year—continues to exist in a zone of its own.

That said, the rankings are not quite as stable as they have been in the past. In most years, there is some sort of shuffle among numbers 8 through 11. This year, however, Latham fell an unprecedented 10 spots down to #17, while Weil Gotshal climbed from #9 to #6. (The latter is one small perk of having the world’s preeminent restructuring group during an economic crisis.)

Here are 5 more things we’ve noticed about these new rankings:

1.   Skadden had a good year, climbing over Sullivan & Cromwell to take the #3 spot. Among other factors, the notion of ‘ half-Skadden ’ is a potent one, though not quite enough to carry the firm past Cravath. (Mildly ironic in that Cravath’s bonus decision spawned that meme.)

Truly striking is the reach of the Skadden brand: Third in the Boston regional ranking, second in Chicago, and—taking over from Latham—No. 1 in Northern and Southern California. (Vault’s regional rankings are calculated using only the votes of the survey respondents in the particular region.) By contrast, in its hometown of New York City, Skadden places fifth. (These regional rankings are coming soon to the site.)

2.   The ascension of U.K. firms—a major theme of the rankings in recent years—has stalled. All of the Magic Circle (with the exception of Allen & Overy) fell back. Current perception: the U.K. firms are hurting more than their U.S. counterparts. Plenty of evidence points to the same conclusion.

3.   Cadwalader continues its free fall (#26 in the 2008 rankings, #60 in 2010), while Quinn Emanuelis on the rise (#43 in 2008, #23 in the new rankings).

4.   Some of the survey data pre-dates the great purges of February and March. But we are confident that the volume of responses—from more than 15,000 associates—and the fact that data was gathered over a period of four months, flattens the effect this might have had on the overall prestige rankings.

5.   ‘Prestige’ may seem a nebulous basis for a rankings system. Yet, using the Vault survey’s simple prestige scale, the BigLaw hive mind consistently orders firms in precise ways. An arbitrary example: Schulte Roth, which came in at #77 this year, ranked 80, 77, 76 and 82 over the previous four years. Another example, #55 Alston & Bird, ranked 57, 61, 59 and 57 over the same period. Another: #89 Finnegan Henderson: 90, 88, 89, 85. While there may be little meaningful distinction between slots 77 and 80, or, say, slots 59 and 57, there are meaningful differences between tiers. The relative consistency of these rankings, year after year, indicates that there clearly is a method to the madness.

As ever, all Vault law firm rankings (overall prestige, departmental, regional, diversity and quality of life) are purely a function of associate votes. No editorial input or judgment affects the results. I’m happy to answer any all questions about these rankings—please ask in the comments.

-posted by brian

Filed Under: Law

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