Vault’s Law 100 Rankings for 2016 are here, and it’s clear which firms have a good thing going. Cooley is now a Top 40 Vault firm after joining the Top 50 for the first time last year. Boies, Schiller & Flexner, another rising star, is now at No. 12 and could very well be in the Top 10 by next year. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz tops the list at No. 1 for the 13thyear in a row, while Cravath, Swaine & Moore again trails by a small margin.
The Vault Law 100 list is based on scores from more than 17,000 law firm associates, 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.
Wachtell—described by survey respondents as “unparalleled” and the “New York prestige standard-setter”—continues its reign as No. 1. The “extremely sophisticated” Cravath, known for “the best deals on Wall Street,” falls closely behind at No. 2. Although the familiar players compose the Top 10, there were some shifts: Kirkland & Ellis jumped up two spots, to No. 7, bumping Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Weil Gotshal & Manges down one spot each, to Nos. 8 and 9, respectively. Latham & Watkins holds steady to its No. 10 rank. And yet again, Boies Schiller threatens to break into the upper echelons; after bursting into the Top 20 just three years ago, the “elite litigation shop” known for its “outrageous compensation” beat Covington & Burling for the No. 12 slot by just 0.054 points.
“We can really see which changes in the market made an impression on associates this year,” stated Nicole Weber, Vault’s Law Editor. “Tech is booming right now, and the Silicon Valley firms keep climbing the ranks of the Top 100. It’s no coincidence that Cooley and Fenwick & West both scored higher in Vault’s survey this year while also posting the biggest revenue gains in the AmLaw 100.”
Silicon Valley Firms Keep Rising
Cooley’s ascension continues this year with a seven-point jump to the No. 38 spot. Last year it climbed 10 spots, more than any other firm in the 2015 rankings, to land in the Top 50 for the first time. Attorneys at peer firms had no shortage of great things to say about this 850-lawyer firm, describing it as a “top firm for startups” that is “great at IP” and “gets all the deals.” Fenwick & West, another Bay Area player, climbed six spots to snatch the No. 75 slot from McGuireWoods. Fenwick attorneys are known as “the cool kids in Silicon Valley,” who are “entrepreneurial” and worked on the “Facebook IPO” in 2012.
Morgan Lewis Absorption of Bingham McCutchen Attorneys Pays Off
After spending the past two years at No. 50, Morgan Lewis is now seated comfortably inside the Top 50—it jumped up six places and is now ranked No. 44. The Philadelphia-based firm made headlines in late 2014 when it absorbed 750 lawyers and staff from Bingham McCutchen and increased its attorney headcount to nearly 2,000, up from 1,375. Vault’s survey respondents described Morgan Lewis as an “employment law powerhouse” with a “top tax group,” and the praise is sure to continue as the firm expands its reach across new regions and practice areas following the Bingham additions.
Mergers Shake Things Up in the Vault 100
In addition to Morgan Lewis, Cooley and Fenwick, five other firms in the Top 100 moved up at least five spots this year—Norton Rose Fulbright (No. 72), Dentons (No. 80), Pepper Hamilton (No. 90), Manatt, Phelps & Phillips (No. 91) and Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler (No. 95). Norton Rose Fulbright saw the biggest gain of any firm this year, bouncing back 15 places after last year’s 39-place drop following the merger of Norton Rose and Fulbright & Jaworski.
“Some big changes in our 2016 rankings reflect the flurry of law firm merger activity over the past several years,” noted Weber. “A big merger, especially one that involves a name change or major rebrand, may result in a lower prestige score at first, but we tend to see firms climb back steadily in the years following.” Dentons’ nine-spot hike this year represents a recovery following the 2010 merger of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal and Denton Wilde Sapte (the merged firm spent two years off the Top 100 list, came back in 2014 and has been inching up ever since). Squire Patton Boggs, a product of a major 2014 merger, landed at No. 82 this year: 11 places lower than legacy firm Patton Boggs, but 13 places higher than legacy firm Squire Sanders.
Other Notes from the Vault Law 100
Kilpatrick, Townsend & Stockton is back in the Top 100 after a three-year hiatus, yet another move that reflects a comeback from a past merger (Kilpatrick Stockton merged with Townsend and Townsend and Crew in 2011). Troutman Sanders made it back into the Top 100 as well, at the No. 99 spot, after a brief absence in the 2015 rankings. Two firms fell out of the Top 100 this year: Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.
View the entire Top 100 Law Firm Rankings.
One of the largest law firms in the world, Latham’s list of practice areas is just as expansive as its office locations. While associates find headline-making work exciting, the hours necessary to adequately prep those cases can be brutal.
Businesses facing bankruptcy may not be able to pass Go or collect $200, but they may want to call Weil, a firm known for its long history of bankruptcy expertise, among other things. After working hard all week (and sometimes on the weekend), Weil associates like to kick back and relax at the firm’s “Thank God it’s Thursday” monthly cocktail reception.
Cleary prides itself on its top-notch Antitrust group, among many other practice areas. Commitment to such a niche practice area has earned some Cleary associates a nerdy reputation, but they don’t mind. They love the fun people they work with and their lockstep compensation.
Founded in the Windy City and still expanding throughout the United States, Europe and Asia, Kirkland helps private equity clients manage their businesses across the globe. Of course, international clients can mean long nights in the office, but associates appreciate the high-level work.
Known for being one of the new trendsetters on bonuses, New York-based Simpson Thacher is a go-to firm for M&A's biggest players. Associates love their top-of-market compensation, but sometimes wish it was easier to balance work and play.
Now known as a market leader when it comes to compensation, Davis Polk is not just a "capital markets powerhouse," but also an "excellent, well-balanced firm." With 900 attorneys and counting, DPW impresses across the board and across continents--it has 10 offices spread across the Americas, Europe and Asia.
An offer to join the 800+ attorney S&C is one of the hottest tickets in town for budding associates and former clerks. Its "zealous advocates" have an "excellent reputation across all practice groups," which makes it no surprise that the firm consistently lands in Vault's Top 5 every year.
A household name by now, Skadden is feared by its opponents and beloved by its clients. No wonder it's described as "a little like the Empire State Building--big, classic, tried and true, and very New York." While that may be true, the firm's reach extends far beyond the Big Apple, with 23 offices and over 1,600 attorneys worldwide.
Vault's survey respondents describe Cravath as "top of the line" and "the standard by which others are judged." This firm has been around for nearly 200 years and isn't going anywhere; it consistently advises on billion dollar acquisitions and handles complex litigations for the world's largest financial institutions.
Topping the Vault Law 100 for the 13th year in a row is Wachtell, the New York institution that may well have its hand in every single top deal in the country. It's one of the hardest offers to land, and the brilliant lawyers that work there are known to be among the highest paid in the business.
We asked, 17,000+ attorneys answered. Here are the most prestigious firms in the U.S.
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