For many law schools, the bidding process for the upcoming on-campus interview season closed yesterday. In bidding, schools quite reasonably advise students to select potential employers that align with their aspirations and geographic preferences. For example, the section of the Duke Law web site devoted to OCI admonishes students to “thoroughly research” potential employers and to “focus only on employers in whom you are genuinely interested and that match your career goals.” Presumably, one career goal shared by all law school graduates is to eventually be free of debt. As previously and repeatedly noted, for most, a Biglaw associate position is the only employment outcome which gives the graduate a plausible prospect of paying off his student loans.

So what shapes student perception of large law firms and drives the decision of the law student in prioritizing their OCI bids? No doubt there are unique versions of received wisdom that get passed from generation to generation of students at every school. And of course there are plenty of media entities measuring firms against one another: revenues (AmLaw), “prestige” (Vault), practice area prowess (Chambers) and so on. This being the time of year where Biglaw careers are just starting to be built, we thought it would be interesting to look at how students themselves rate law firms. Which firms are the law student favorites?

The ATL Insider Survey asks law students for their perception of specific firms as potential employers . Below are the top ten rated firms. For comparisons we’ve included the firms’ AmLaw 100 ranking, Vault ranking, and the ATL Insider Survey “Overall Satisfaction” Rating (as scored by attorneys currently working at the firms).

Student Rank Firm AmLaw Vault Insider Survey
1
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
15
8
24
2
Davis Polk & Wardwell
22
5
2
3
Gibson Dunn & Crutcher
10
12
18
4
Ropes & Gray
23
23
31
5
Sidley Austin
8
18
3
6
Debevoise & Plimpton
42
13
7
7
Kirkland & Ellis
5
9
32
8
Morrison & Foerster
20
24
43
9 (tie)
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
21
7
6
9 (tie)
Sullivan & Cromwell
14
3
54
10
Arnold & Porter
37
22
53

There don’t appear to be any clear correlations among these rankings, though it appears that Vault’s “prestige” rankings hold some sway. One striking disconnect is the appearance of Sullivan & Cromwell and Arnold & Porter in the top ten – both are among the Insider Survey’s lowest rated by attorneys currently practicing at those firms. In any event, congratulations to Cleary on being our student readers’ dream firm. Looking at survey comments we’ve received from practicing attorneys at our three top firms, the students’ positive perception of them as employers finds much support. Although not all the survey comments were this rosy—far from it—the quotes below are representative of a significant swath of insider opinion:

Cleary: The culture is terrific. People are not just nice but also interesting and proactively collegial. The cases, clients, and deals are high-level and interesting. Lock-step compensation means no competition between associates or partners for hours and labor. Open practice groups means the flexibility to gain general expertise in a variety of disparate areas. Hours are long and expectations are high, but it happens in a supportive and friendly environment.

Davis Polk: Best work you can get on the street, but, more importantly, best people to be working with. You’re going to end up being in the office at 3 am one day or the other regardless of which firm you choose, you might as well like the person sitting across from you while you’re there.

Gibson: Gibson Dunn is everything you’d want from a firm, at least relative to its peers in Biglaw: everyone is really friendly and easy to work with, the work is interesting and substantive (I’ve been here 4 months and I’ve gotten to write 2 motions and a section of a brief), the quality of work here is excellent (you really can trust anyone here with anything), it’s flexible in terms of hours and working at home, and the pay is competitive (even starting associates got stub bonuses).

Finally, if you have not yet done so, please take a couple of minutes and take our Insider Survey here.


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