The new Vault Rankings are out. It’s a fun day for large law firms — a day when their prestige is matched against that of their peers.
The day is even more significant this year, since it appears that so-called “top” Biglaw firms are now paying bonuses largely in “prestige points.”
Vault ranks the prestige of firms based on nearly 17,000 surveys sent to law firm associates all across the country. Just by looking at the top ten firms, I think we can agree that associates who fill out these surveys have no memory and have really enjoyed this period of salary stagnation.
As I mentioned last week when talking about associate hours, it seems Biglaw partners really know what they’re doing. Whether we’re talking about prestige or associate hours, partners have figured out that associates will take less money and like it….
Here are the top ten firms in the Vault Law Firm Rankings. There are a lot of familiar faces:
Cravath has done such an impressive job of setting the bonus market low, even I want to give Susan Webster a high five. Vault pulls out representative quotes from their surveys about each firm; check out these for Cravath:
Survey respondents have consistently ranked Wachtell and Cravath No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, and this year called Wachtell “#1 forever,” and “best of the best of the best,” while referring to Cravath as the “gold standard for big firms” that continuously “sets the bar.”
Yeah, let’s remember where Cravath set the bar.
Meanwhile, Sullivan & Cromwell, which actually bothered to pay a spring tip (and said they would from the beginning), actually dropped a spot in the rankings.
It’s like Biglaw associates are just as averse to evidence and facts as prospective law students.
Take, for example, the curious case of Latham & Watkins. Here’s how the Vault people describe the rebound of the ever-popular firm:
Last year, the big story that came out of the Vault Law 100 was the reemergence of Latham & Watkins. Latham & Watkins was always a mainstay in Vault Law’s Top 10, but survey respondents lost faith when the firm laid off 440 attorneys in 2009, sending it hurtling down 10 spots to No. 17 in the 2010 rankings. But Latham weathered the storm and respondents took notice, propelling the firm to a No. 11 spot last year before putting it back in the Top 10 today. Associates proclaimed that Latham is “back as a top dog,” citing its “great culture” and “laid-back” vibe.
I mean, what can you say? The Mayans had a great, laid-back culture when things were going well, and then when resources got tight, they practiced ritual human sacrifice. But I guess even the virgins on the altar probably thought that the Mayans were the “top dog.”
Prestige is as prestige does. Maybe looking at tangible evidence to define the ephemeral quality of “prestige” is looking at it the wrong way. Further down the list, we see Jones Day ranks at #19, while Boies Schiller fell from #17 to #20. Now, I know that is wrong. I could probably spend some time digging up all kind of evidence to somehow try to “prove” that Jones Day is not more prestigious than Boies Schiller, but really, I just know it — regardless of any facts that might support my claim. Bottom line, I see Boies in one way, and Jones Day in another, and there is little evidence (absent JD actually being transparent with its salary structure) that’s going to change my mind on the subject.
That’s the thing about prestige points. Their value exists only in your own mind.