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by Vault Law Editors | June 20, 2018


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

Vault’s Law 100 ranking for 2019 is here, and Cravath has clinched the No. 1 spot for the third year in a row, making it the most prestigious law firm. Cravath outranked the No. 2 firm—Wachtell Lipton—by .322 points, up from last year’s lead of .268 points.

The Top 10 Most Prestigious Law Firms based on Vault’s Annual Associate Survey for 2019 are:

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

Survey respondents described Cravath as “the gold standard” and “the crème de la crème,” noting that the firm boasts the “absolute best corporate lawyers in the country.”

“With a steadily increasing lead over the past three years, Cravath has established itself as the nation’s top law firm,” said Matt Moody, Vault’s Senior Law Editor. “Cravath is the market leader in compensation, with associates across the industry measuring their pay against ‘the Cravath Scale,’ and the firm has been integral in shaping the legal industry for centuries, so it is unsurprising that associates view it as the best.”

The Vault Associate Survey

The Vault Law 100 ranking is based on scores from nearly 20,000 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 only to 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.

Latham and Paul, Weiss Make Top 10 History

With its No. 5 ranking, Latham has reached the top 5 for the first time in Vault history. The firm climbed back into the top 10 in 2013 after plummeting ten spots—from 7 to 17—in 2010 in the depths of the recession. Since 2013, the firm has been a mainstay in the top 10. Latham’s move to No. 5 marks a two-spot jump from its 2018 ranking of 7. Those taking the survey noted that Latham is “well-rounded,” “innovative,” and “adaptive,” which may explain the firm’s “spectacular growth.”

“Latham has proven that the doors don’t close on prestige,” said Moody. “With its global reach and sophisticated client base, Latham has long been a leader in the legal industry, which is clearly demonstrated by its near decade-long march into the Top Five.”

Another notable change to the top 10 is the addition of Paul, Weiss for the first time. Paul, Weiss has consistently ranked in the top 20, but this year, the firm captured the No. 10 spot, moving up from its 2018 rank of 11.

The Top 100 saw one newcomer: Wiley Rein, which rounded out the ranking at No. 100, knocking Kasowitz, Benson Torres out of the Top 100. It’s Wiley Rein’s first time in the Top 100 since 2013, when the firm stood at No. 97.

DC Firms Make Their Mark

The 2019 rankings marked a rise in firms from the Capital, with Washington, DC-based firms making up nearly a quarter of all firms that climbed two or more spots upward. These firms include Williams & Connolly (No. 17), WilmerHale (No. 20), Dentons (No. 60), Venable (No. 71), Hunton Andrews Kurth (No. 81), and Wiley Rein (No. 100). Additionally, Washington-based Hogan Lovells broke into the Top 25 this year, continuing a two-year rise from the No. 31 spot.

“Given the current political climate, it is logical that DC-area firms are experiencing a boost in recognition,” said Moody.

Southern and Secondary Markets Move Up at Expense of New York firms

Another noteworthy trend is the rise of non-New York firms—especially Southern firms and those in certain secondary markets—and the relative decline of numerous New York-based firms. Of the 17 firms that dropped two or more spots in the rankings, more than one third were New York-based firms. In fact, no New York-based firm moved up two or more positions this year.

Nearly a quarter of the firms that jumped two or more spots in the rankings were from Southern markets, including Houston, Atlanta, and Florida. Another quarter were from secondary markets—specifically Philadelphia, Seattle, and Cleveland. A handful of firms from California and Boston complete the group of firms that increased their ranking by two or more spots, including San Francisco’s Cooley LLP, which gained five spots to place at No. 27.

“This movement, combined with the DC firms’ upward shifts, suggests that associates are increasingly valuing practice areas that are dominant outside of New York, such as tech, government, and energy,” said Moody.

New Leaders in Southern California and the Mountain States

In addition to the Top 100, Vault has released its regional rankings for 2019, and Southern California and the Mountain States saw changes at the top. Gibson Dunn & Crutcher ousted Latham as the No. 1 firm in Southern California, moving up from its previous position at No. 2. Gibson Dunn’s prestige score for the region increased from 8.574 to 8.651 this year, giving it a narrow lead of .048 points over Latham.

Perkins Coie claimed the top spot in the Mountain States, making a leap from its prior ranking at No. 4 and increasing its regional prestige score from 7.078 to 7.314. This year was a significant one for the Seattle-based firm, as it also broke into the rankings for Southern California, securing the No. 20 position, and retained its long-held No. 1 spot in the Pacific Northwest. Perkins Coie also increased its ranking in the Top 100, jumping into the top 50 from its previous spot at No. 54.

Vault’s Top Law Firms in each region are:

Shifting Leaders in Clean Tech and Emerging Companies & Venture Capital

Vault has also released its 2019 Practice Area rankings. This year’s rankings saw new firms atop Clean Tech and Emerging Companies & Venture Capital rankings, but otherwise there was little change in the leaders.

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe rose to the No. 1 spot in Clean Tech, followed by Latham at No. 2, and Norton Rose Fulbright at No. 3. Meanwhile, Cooley took the top spot in the Emerging Companies & Venture Capital category—over last year’s No. 1 firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

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|Latham|Law 100|Wachtell

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