The real utility of the Vault law firm rankings isn’t the opportunity they give to prestige whores who want to lord their status over others. The rankings — conveniently released just before the start of on-campus recruiting — allow law students to get an inside peek at the firms that will soon be coming to campus to vie for their attentions. The firms know a lot about you, but what do you really know about the firms? The Vault rankings are an opportunity to close the informational gap.
Okay, sure, I ripped that opening from something somebody probably wrote in 2005. In a recession economy, law students are probably more concerned with which firms won’t abort their legal careers, instead of which firms have the best cookies.
But still, the rankings give us an opportunity to discuss each firm. And readers of Above the Law are always full of opinions when it comes to the best Biglaw firms.
So sit back, register your Disqus account, and join us as we romp through the Vault 100. We’ll start at the very top — because prestige whoring doesn’t have to be useful in order to be fun…
To refresh your memory, here are the ten most prestigious law firms in all the land, according to Vault.
3. Sullivan & Cromwell
5. Davis Polk & Wardwell
6. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
7. Weil, Gotshal & Manges
8. Williams & Connolly
9. Cleary Gottlieb
10. Covington & Burling
We’ve already mentioned that Kirkland & Ellis fell out of the top ten this year. And the WilmerHale trolls from Tuesday’s comment thread need immediate medical attention. So let’s focus on the firms that are here.
And the firms that are here are ones that have never budged from the $160,000 salary scale for New York associates — except for Wachtell, which of course pays more. Sure, some of them have deferred incoming associates. Some have had some minor layoffs. Some even froze salaries outside of New York. But they’ve all held the line in NYC.
If you don’t mess with people’s salaries, if you pay people like they are the best lawyers in the country, then guess what: people will think, “Wow, this firm must have the best lawyers in the country.”
Elsewhere in the top ten, Vault’s Brian Dalton comments that this year’s rankings represent a return to normalcy at the top of the Vault:
The New Old Big Three: Since Vault began to survey law firm associates 13 years ago, Wachtell, Cravath, and Sullivan & Cromwell have had a monopoly on the Top 3 spots … until last year, when Skadden placed third, presumably riding a wave of associate goodwill generated by the “half-Skadden” meme. This year, as the economy appears to be in a slow recovery (and Skadden’s bonus was merely on par with its peers), the Top 3 reverts back to “normal.” Elsewhere in the Top 10, Simpson Thacher (No. 6) and Weil Gotshal (No. 7) have swapped spots—another reversion to a longstanding pre-Recession pattern.
So once Skadden stopped paying a bonus that was double the Sullivan & Cromwell bonus, the firm slipped back below Sullivan & Cromwell. That makes sense. You have to wonder: if Skadden had doubled Cravath’s bonus for a second year in a row, would that have been enough to allow Skadden to overtake Cravath for the #2 spot?
Of course, it’s not just about money. Sometimes prestige is its own reward. Take a look a this “upper” listed from the Vault surveys of Cravath associates:
Nice. Cravath’s prestige is worth its weight in, well, prestige.
New to the top ten this year is Williams & Connolly. Many people have said that Williams & Connolly should have been here a long time ago. The publicity from the Obama administration certainly hasn’t hurt, but Williams & Connolly is more than deserving of its spot. Just take a look at Vault’s “buzz” about the firm:
* “Litigation ninjas”
* “Crème de la crème for those without souls”
* “THE top litigation shop in the country”
The best soulless, pretentious legal ninjas in the country? That sounds like a top-ten firm to me.
What else jumps out to you about the top ten? We want these threads to be informative to law students trying to figure out where to go, so if you work at these firms, know people who work at these firms, or have been across the table from these firms, please take a moment to share your wisdom in the comments.
Earlier: The 2011 Vault Rankings Are Out!