Biglaw, Rankings

Apparently They Don’t Brand for Prestige

We like to talk a lot about prestige around here, but at Cravath, associates are learning that you can’t spend “prestige points” on your student debt repayments.

Branding is a little easier to take to the bank. It’s something that firm managers and leaders work hard to develop and maintain that can directly lead to business opportunities. As we mentioned in Morning Docket, Am Law Daily published an Acritas report on firm branding. The results will surprise the prestige conscious among you.

This list of firms with a stronger brand than the erstwhile bonus setters at CSM is astounding….

According to Acritas, here are the top 15 firm brands (you can see the full list of 25 firms over at Am Law):

1. Skadden
2. Jones Day
3. Kirkland & Ellis
4. Sidley Austin
5. Wachtell
6. Latham & Watkins
7. Baker & McKenzie
8. Morgan Lewis
9. Gibson Dunn
10. Sullivan & Cromwell
11. DLA Piper
12. Mayer Brown
13. Hogan Lovells
14. Fulbright & Jaworski
15. Cravath

If you are like me, your mind instinctively resists this list. Jones Day is number two? Hogan Lovells, which didn’t exist two years ago, has a stronger brand than Cravath? According to who? The guy with the Memento disease (gavel bang: Haterade)?

It’s the challenge of list making: when you produce a ranking that challenges people’s assumptions, you first have to overcome the presumption that your list-making skills are full of s**t.

Here’s what Acritas did:

Acritas compiled its list based on answers to phone interviews with 902 clients, 667 headquartered in the U.S. These are big clients: 58 percent report revenues of at least $1-billion. They answered the following inquiries:

• What are the first five law firms that come to mind?
• Which three firms do you feel the most favorable toward?
• Which firms are you most likely to consider for major M&A work ?
• Which firms are you most likely to consider for bet-the-company litigation matters?
• Which firms do you use most for “high value” work?
• And for overseas clients: which firms do you use most in the U.S.?

And here’s what they found:

Each mention was worth a point on the Acritas ranking except for the top-of-mind question. On that question firms earned five points for being mentioned first, four for second, etc. Skadden has the most first mentions—40—followed by Jones Day (24); Sidley (16); Baker & McKenzie (14); Mayer Brown (13) and Hogan Lovells, Kirkland & Ellis, and Sullivan & Cromwell (12).

The fame and favorability rankings were similar but not identical. On that ranking Jones Day placed first with 45 mentions followed by Skadden (39), Sidley (33), Morgan Lewis (32), Baker & McKenzie (30), DLA Piper and Fulbright & Jaworski (25), Hogan Lovells (24), Kirkland (23), and Gibson, Dunn and Wachtell (22).

What? What the hell is going on here? The most favorable firm among billion-dollar companies is Jones Day? It’s like asking rich people what their favorite restaurant is, and hearing them say “McDonald’s.” Is this the world we’ve been living in all this time?

The easiest hole to poke in this list is that it seems to, for whatever reasons, favor size. Wachtell is not that big, but many of the other highly ranked firms are simply huge behemoths. JD, Skadden, Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper — we’re talking about firms that end up being strongly branded just by the brute force of their superior numbers. The McDonald’s analogy is apt when you’re looking at branding; size matters.

I’d like to see the internals on how people answered the questions about M&A or bet-the-company litigation. Of course, my desire to see those numbers is prestige-whore speak for: “You’ve gotta be freaking kidding me with this freaking list.” Looking at that list is like being pulled out of the Matrix and cast into the desert of the real.

But it sure is compelling stuff. And you have to give congratulations to these strongly branded firms. If you are the firm that “comes to mind” when big clients need legal help, you are clearly doing something right.

The Strongest Law Firm Brands in the Land [Am Law Daily]

ATL Law Firm Directory
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