Last week we took a look at how Biglaw’s litigation departments stack up against one another in terms of compensation, training, firm morale, hours, and culture.
Today, we turn toward the other major category of Biglaw practitioners: corporate/transactional attorneys. Unlike litigators, about whom the public at least has some notion, however distorted, of what they do, most people have no clue what corporate lawyers are up to. No young person daydreams about “facilitating a business transaction,” while there are some who aspire to argue in a courtroom. As noted last week, this litigation/corporate information imbalance is reinforced by the law school curriculum, which remains largely beholden to the case method of instruction.
When comparing the experiences of corporate lawyers versus litigators, there is a familiar litany of pro and cons:
- Transactional work is not zero-sum. In theory at least, you work with, rather than against, other lawyers. Although obviously you must protect your client’s interests, you’re not trying to annihilate the other guy.
- Your client is probably in a better mood compared to a litigation client and more likely to see you as an ally than as a necessary evil.
- Typically, Biglaw firms staff corporate deals much more leanly than litigations, which tend to be more heavily staffed and hierarchically organized.
- The low-level work is awful. But this applies equally to litigation. Litigation has doc review and transactional juniors get due diligence. Pick your poison.
- Litigators have dates on the calendar — filing deadlines, court dates, etc. — and are somewhat able to anticipate their busiest periods. Not so for corporate attorneys, who generally have much more unpredictable schedules, driven by the vicissitudes of client demands.
Anyway, most Biglaw aspirants are going to have to choose (or be forced into) either transactional or litigation practice. (Again, of course we must acknowledge that in the current legal job market, such a dilemma is the classic “luxury problem.”) For those in a position to choose, which Biglaw shops’ corporate departments offer the highest quality of life? We’ve dug into our survey data for answer.
The ATL Insider Survey (14,500 responses 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 corporate attorneys 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 transaction values. Please note we lack sufficient survey data to generate ratings for all firms, most notably in this case Wachtell. Also, we use the category “Corporate” in its broadest sense, lumping together securities, M&A, and all the varieties of corporate practice into one group. Ratings are on a scale of 1 through 10, with 10 highest.
Culture & Colleagues
Davis Polk 9.18
Debevoise & Plimpton 9.00
Simpson Thacher 8.76
Ropes & Gray 8.67
Average score for all firms: 7.69
Davis Polk 8.68
Debevoise & Plimpton 8.44
Simpson Thacher 8.35
Ropes & Gray 8.05
Average score for all firms: 7.29
Overall, these lists are unsurprisingly dominated by New York firms. Not just any New York firms, but those of the old money, blindingly white-shoe variety: Debevoise, Simpson, Cravath, etc. Apparently, these firms’ reputations for genteel and courteous firm cultures are well-founded. Not to mention a breeding ground for contented lawyers who are practicing at the highest level.
If you have yet to do so, please take a few minutes and tell us about your law firm (or law school) here. Thank you for your contributions.