Vault's Top 100 Law Firms For 2018

by Matt Moody | June 21, 2017

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The 2018 Vault Law 100 - The Most Prestigious Law Firms in the U.S.

Vault’s Law 100 Rankings for 2018 are here, and the #1 firm is now a back-to-back champion. Cravath, Swaine & Moore is once again the most prestigious firm after ending Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz’s thirteen-year reign in last year’s ranking. And Cravath widened its the lead over Wachtell Lipton this year from .057 points to .268 points.

The Top 10 Most Prestigious Law Firms based on Vault’s Annual Associate Survey are:

  1. Cravath, Swaine & Moore
  2. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
  3. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
  4. Sullivan & Cromwell
  5. Davis Polk & Wardwell
  6. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
  7. Latham & Watkins
  8. Kirkland & Ellis
  9. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
  10. Weil, Gotshal & Manges

Survey respondents called Cravath the “leader of the pack” and the “great American law firm against which all others should be judged.” Cravath increased its score from 8.961 to 9.056, while Wachtell, described as the “M&A legends,” saw its prestige score drop slightly from 8.904 to 8.788. 

“After just edging out Wachtell last year, Cravath really solidified its top spot this year,” said Matt Moody, Vault’s Senior Law Editor. “Cravath invented the business model upon which nearly all large law firms are organized. And associates clearly haven’t forgotten that the firm is responsible for industry-wide associate raises last year.” One survey respondent even commented, “Thank God for the Cravath pay scale!”

Although the top remained the same, there was a shakeup at the tail end of the top 10. Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and Weil Gotshal & Manges each moved up a spot to numbers 9 and 10, respectively, with Weil regaining its Top 10 status after a single year on the outside. Making room in the Top 10 was Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, which fell three spots to number 12.

The Vault Associate Survey

The Vault Law 100 ranking is based on scores from nearly 18,000 law firm associates surveyed earlier this year, who were asked to rate law firms on a scale of 1 to 10 based on prestige. Survey respondents were not allowed to rate their own firms and were asked to only rate firms with which they were familiar. In addition to the industry-wide ranking of overall prestige, Vault also asked associates to rate the local prestige of law firms in their region and select the strongest firms in their specific areas of practice. From this data, Vault produces 26 practice area prestige rankings—including Commercial Litigation, M&A, IP, and Antitrust—and 13 regional prestige rankings—including New York; Washington, DC; Chicago; and Southern California.

Five New Firms in the Top 100

Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton leaped back into the Top 100 Most Prestigious Firms this year at number 91 after a one year absence. Other new firms to the Top 100 this year are Kasowitz, Benson Torres (No. 99)—home to President Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz—along with Atlanta’s Troutman Sanders (No. 96), Seattle’s Davis Wright Tremaine (No. 98), and Philadelphia’s Ballard Spahr (No. 100). Although five new firms jumped into the Top 100, only three firms—Bracewell; Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler; and Keker & Van Nest—fell out. The other two spots were opened up from major mergers this year: Arnold & Porter and Kaye Scholer combined to form Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, and Norton Rose Fulbright and Chadbourne & Parke announced a combination earlier this year as well. 

Practice Area Changes

Two practice areas saw new champs this year with Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy taking the number one spot in Project Finance  and Cravath ranking highest in General Corporate Law. Milbank’s win over Skadden was the first time Skadden failed to be the best firm in Project Finance in that ranking’s five-year history. Cravath’s General Corporate law win also knocked Skadden from the top perch in that area—the two firms traded the number one and number three positions while Wachtell Lipton held firm at number two. But don’t shed too many tears for Skadden—the firm still holds the number one spot in three specialized prestige categories: Tax, Securities Litigation, and the Mid-Atlantic region. The only other firm that can boast such a claim is Kirkland & Ellis, which is tops in Restructuring, Private Equity, and Chicago.

In addition to a full range of Corporate and Litigation practice rankings, Vault also added two new practice area rankings this year to spotlight growing areas of the law. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati took the top spot in the inaugural Emerging Companies & Venture Capital ranking and and McDermott Will & Emery topped Vault’s new Health Care law ranking.

Shakeups in Texas and Washington, DC

The practice area rankings were not the only specialized prestige rankings to see changes at top this year—there were new kings of two regional rankings as well. Covington & Burling reclaimed its position as the best firm in Washington, DC, knocking Williams & Connolly down to the number two firm in the nation’s capital. These two firms have traded the top spot in recent years, with Covington ranked number one in 2013, 2016, and 2018 while Williams & Connolly was at the top in 2014, 2015, and 2017. Vinson & Elkins ranked highest this year in Texas, which has seen a similar back-and-forth at the top of the rankings. V&E reclaimed its pinnacle position after two years at number two. Baker Botts, this year’s second place firm, topped the Texas ranking in 2016 and 2017.

Vault’s Top Law Firms in each region are:

Atlanta: King & Spalding
Boston: Ropes & Gray
Chicago: Kirkland & Ellis
Miami: White & Case
Mid-Atlantic: Skadden
Midwest: Jones Day
Mountain States: Gibson Dunn
New York: Wachtell Lipton
Northern California: Morrison & Foerster
Pacific Northwest: Perkins Coie
Southern California: Latham & Watkins
Texas: Vinson & Elkins
Washington, DC: Covington & Burling

View the entire Top 100 Law Firm Rankings, the Best Law Firms in Each Practice Area, and the Best Law Firms in Each U.S. Region.

Filed Under: Law

Tags: BigLaw | Cravath | Law 100 | Wachtell | Weil

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