The popular conception of “lawyer” — as seen on television and in the movies — is that of a litigator. Understandably, law students are also susceptible to this view and will be so as long as the case method remains the pedagogy of choice in law school. Cases, by definition, are always about litigation. Both popular culture and the law school curriculum show lawyers most often in court or, at least, investigating the facts of the case. However, the truth of litigation practice is very different: the overwhelming majority of litigators’ work takes place outside the courtroom. Never mind that upwards of 90 percent of all lawsuits settle before trial or that most litigators’ spend their actual in-court time arguing procedural motions rather than the substance of the dispute. Oh, and there’s also doc review.

Anyway, most new associates and law students who aspire to Biglaw are going to be confronted with a question. To grossly generalize and simplify: am I a litigator or a transactional attorney? Many would say that there are distinct personality types best suited for each. Are you a win-lose kind of person or a win-win kind of person? Do you enjoy confrontation? Do you care if you ever see the inside of a courtroom? How important is the predictability of your schedule? And so on. (Of course we must acknowledge that wrestling over such questions is the classic “luxury problem.” For the majority of law students, what follows is, at most, of voyeuristic interest.)

For those in a position to choose, which Biglaw shop’s litigation departments offer the highest quality of life? We’ve dug into our survey data for answers…

The ATL Insider Survey (14,500 response and counting) asks respondents to assess their employers in terms of compensation, training, firm morale, hours, and culture. Below are the firms that were highest rated by their own litigators in each category, as well as overall. Keep in mind that these ratings are a commentary on the firm as an employer, without regard to “prestige” or won/loss record. Please note we lack sufficient survey data to generate ratings for all firms, most notably in this case Williams & Connolly. Also, we use the category “Litigation” in its broadest sense, lumping together IP, general commercial litigation, white collar defense, securities litigation, and all the disparate varieties into one group. Ratings are on a scale of 1 through 10, with 10 highest.

Compensation

1. Boies Schiller 9.74
2. Paul Weiss 9.30
3. Quinn Emanuel 9.22
4. Davis Polk 9.25
5. Jones Day 8.50
Average score for all firms: 7.4

Hours

1. Davis Polk 8.25
2. Sidley Austin 8.11
3. Jenner & Block 7.92
4. Arnold & Porter 7.67
5. Debevoise & Plimpton 7.6
Average score for all firms: 7.08

Firm Morale

1. Davis Polk 8.94
2. Jenner & Block 8.67
3. Sidley Austin 8.22
4. Paul Weiss 7.90
5. Boies Schiller 7.79
Average score for all firms: 7.09

Training

1. Paul Weiss: 8.80
2. Cravath 8.75
3. Jenner & Block 8.58
4. Arnold & Porter 8.22
5. Davis Polk 8.13
Average score for all firms: 7.97

Culture & Colleagues

1. Jenner & Block 9.25
2. Sidley Austin 8.89
3. Davis Polk 8.81
4. Debevoise & Plimpton 8.80 (tie)
4. Quinn Emanuel 8.80 (tie)
Average score for all firms: 7.97

Overall Rating

1. Davis Polk 8.67
2. Jenner & Block 8.50
3. Sidley Austin 8.27
4. Paul Weiss 8.04
5. Arnold & Porter 7.89
Average score for all firms: 7.29

Congratulations to the Davis Polkers and all the other happy campers at the firms making the grade here. Not only do the litigators at these firms report a higher quality of life relative to all their peers at hundreds of other firms, they are, however you measure it, among the profession’s most elite practitioners.

Finally, if you have yet to do so, please take a few minutes and tell us about your firm (or school) here.


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