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by Vault Law Editors | September 13, 2007

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David Lat, gadfly, gossipeur and all-around alpha blogstar, also writes a semimonthly column for The New York Observer, the pink paper that is not The Financial Times. In his debut column, Lat does some hardcore shoe leather reporting to uncover who this year's "It" law firms are. (This apparently entailed taking the subway and talking to a few smokers standing outside of local law schools.)

Reading the column, I felt that I'd come across these firms before. Oh right. "It" firms and the elite of the Vault Top 100 overlap: no surprise there. But how do law students' perceptions, as uncovered by Lat's "it" firm investigation, compare to "the buzz" among practicing lawyers who took our 2007 Associate Survey? A quick & superficial look:

Firm: Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz (Vault's No. 1 for prestige)
Lat learns: "The most prestigious"
Vault Buzz: "Far and away the gold standard"

Firm: Cravath, Swaine & Moore (No. 2)
Lat learns: "White-shoe and WASP-y"
Vault Buzz: "Pretentious but rightfully so"

Firm: Latham & Watkins (No. 8)
Lat learns: "California firms are perceived as less hierarchical"
Vault Buzz: "A bit like Degrassi"

Firm: Davis Polk & Wardwell (No. 5)
Lat learns: "I've heard they have good-looking associates"
Vault Buzz: "Perfect in every way"

Firm: Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton (No. 7)
Lat learns: "A quirky, pleasingly academic atmosphere"
Vault Buzz: "Charmed elite"

Firm: Debevoise & Plimpton (No. 12 )
Lat learns: "We're Big Law but we're nice"
Vault Buzz: "Best of the NYC white shoe firms"

Verdict: no real discord between the perceptions, although, presumably Degrassi, like all junior high schools, is intensely hierarchical. I'm sure as well that Latham would chafe at being labeled as "Californian." The firm's largest office is in New York and it is a very self-consciously "global" operation, whatever its roots. Another quibble with the piece: Wachtell did not "recently" surpass Cravath in Vault's prestige rankings, unless five years ago is "recently." Otherwise, it was an amusing glance at the state of law student opinion—and one that reinforced our own findings (or perpetuated a silly pecking order based on the dubious concept of "prestige").

However, Lat's piece gets generally savaged by the vitriolic abovethelaw commentariat, e.g.:

Agree with those who say this article sucked. Wachtell, Cravath, Davis Polk, Latham, and Debevoise are "it" law firms this season? Wait, wait . . . I can do this too: The "it" I-banks this season are Goldman, Blackstone, Lehman, and JPMC. For accountants, the "it" firms are PWC, Deloitte, E&Y, and KPMG. And the "it" colas this season are Coke and Pepsi!

Really, Lat, you're going to put Vault out of business!

Pretty funny, but I think beside the point: the piece was published in the New York Observer, not The American Lawyer. I imagine that, unlike the obsessives who roam the comments sections of law blogs, most of the intended audience of Lat's article have no opinion whatever about these firms—and are surely healthier for it.

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