It’s that time of the year again: American Lawyer magazine has just released its A-List for 2011. The Am Law rankings attempt to evaluate which law firms have got the right stuff to become elite:

The A-List was created in 2003 in an effort to assess (and rank) the nation’s largest and most prominent law firms in a holistic way. It takes into account financial performance, which is represented by the inclusion of firms’ revenue per lawyer, and other important measures of law firm performance, such as attorney diversity, pro bono work, and associate satisfaction. The latter is measured by a firm’s results on our Associates Survey. Pro bono and diversity scores are also a reflection of a firm’s showing on our annual Pro Bono Survey and Diversity Scorecard.

So, which firms made the grade this year? And which firms are the true elite of the elite?

After some musical chairs in the rankings, Am Law’s top three firms for 2011 are:

1. Hughes Hubbard & Reed
2. Munger, Tolles & Olson
3. Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker

So, how did these three firms rise to the top? Apparently, there was a big shake-up in the rankings this year, and all because of associate satisfaction scores.

It looks like after waves of layoffs, some associates are a little bit happier with their firms, while others are still feeling bitter. Here’s how American Lawyer explains the impact of the associate satisfaction scores:

Associate satisfaction only represents about 16 percent of a firm’s overall A-List score, but this year it appeared to be the determining factor in the rise of some firms and the fall of others. Year-to-year changes for associate satisfaction scores for each A-List firm ranged from an increase of 104 points for Dewey & LeBoeuf to a decrease of 35 points for Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.

Paul Hastings, for example, was able to move up from tenth place to third because the firm’s associate satisfaction score rose by 60 points. Maybe that’s because the firm tried to make it appear as if it was throwing around money on the Cravath scale, but either way, its associates are happier now than they were when Am Law’s Mid-Level Survey came out.

Associate satisfaction scores were also responsible for a few firms flat out falling off of the A-List:

Declining associate satisfaction scores played a role in the falling rank of other firms. The four firms that dropped off the 2011 A-List, Arnold & Porter; Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner; O’Melveny; and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe all experienced declines of 17 points or more in their asso­ciate satisfaction score. The associate satisfaction scores for O’Melveny and Arnold & Porter, which tied for seventeenth place on last year’s A-List, dropped 37 and 23 points, respectively.

After O’Melveny’s underwhelming news early on in the spring bonus department, followed by several partner departures, the firm’s fall from the A-List might not be shocking.

It seems like the moral of the story for all Biglaw firms hoping to land on Am Law’s A-List is to keep the associates happy. After all, even if your firm name becomes a verb used for describing layoffs, you can still make a comeback if you keep your associates’ wallets full. Case in point: Latham & Watkins had the third-largest associate satisfaction score increase on the entire A-List this year.

It’s like Biglaw Stockholm syndrome over there.

The A-List 2011: Upheaval in the Ranks [American Lawyer]
The A-List 2011 [American Lawyer]


comments sponsored by

18 comments (hidden for your protection) Show all comments