Biglaw, Rankings, Vault rankings, Williams & Connolly

The 2012 Vault Rankings: Proof Of Short Memories

On February 27, 2009, Latham & Watkins laid off 440 associates and staff. These official layoffs came after months of quietly and stealthily laying off employees.

That year, Latham fell from #7 to #17 on the Vault 100 list of the most prestigious law firms. It was one of the biggest single year drops ever on the Vault list. At the time, I asked: “Is this as far as [Latham] will fall?”

Two years removed from that question, I’m staring at the brand-new Vault 100 rankings. Latham & Watkins is ranked #11.

Memory, my friends, is not something they screen for on the LSAT…

Latham isn’t the only firm that is regaining prestige lost during the recession. Mary Kate Sheridan’s post about the 2012 Vault rankings highlights the recovering firms:

Latham may have fallen from grace when it dropped out of the top 10 to No. 17 in 2010. But the firm is continuing to put its recession woes behind and rebuild its reputation. Last year, the firm moved up to No. 15, and this year, the firm nestled in at No. 11, a comfortable spot to peer into the top 10 and plot a potential breakthrough in the 2013 rankings. Following the same trend is Cadwalader, which moved up 11 spots this year from 44 to 33 after having dropped from 26 to 60 a few years ago. Like Latham, Cadwalader looks ready to pounce back on its old ranking. Time will tell whether associates will put recessionary layoffs aside and reinstate these firms to their past prestige.

Man, sometimes lawyers have the attention span of a goldfish. How are firms supposed to learn that overexpanding during the good times only to massively cut back during the down times results in job insecurity that lawyers abhor? Right now, Latham and Cadwalader are showing other firms that the mentality of “fire as many people as necessary as soon as possible” will be rewarded. Evidently, all of the people who were laid off are no longer around to fill out Vault surveys, while those remaining are so happy to have survived that they’ve forgotten about their fallen colleagues. The Biglaw motto should be “There but for the grace of God go… ooh, look at the shiny PPP numbers.”

In any event, these firms haven’t yet cracked the top ten. The top of the Vault remains relatively unchanged from last year. Here’s the top ten:

1. Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz
2. Cravath, Swaine & Moore
3. Sullivan & Cromwell
4. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
5. Davis Polk & Wardwell
6. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
7. Weil, Gotshal & Manges
8. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
9. Kirkland & Ellis
10. Covington & Burling.

You can check out the full 2012 rankings here. Williams & Connolly dropped out of the top ten, down to #13. I’m not entirely sure why Kirkland took Williams & Connolly’s spot in the top ten, but it probably involves Kirkland supporters giving a Kool-Aid enema to survey respondents.

My favorite story is Cahill. The firm moved from #65 all the way up to #48. We can’t know exactly why, but it might have something to do with Cahill showing its own people the money.

It’s something that we can all hang on to. Maybe aborting the careers of your own people is not something that gets punished, but being nice to your people and paying them a fair share of what they’ve help the firm earn is at least rewarded.

Readers, what do you see? Who do you think were the big winners and losers from this year’s Vault rankings?

Earlier: Fall Recruiting Open Thread: Vault 16-20 (2010)
The 2011 Vault Rankings Are Out!

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