In the two years that we’ve been conducting our ATL Insider Survey, we’ve amassed in excess of 15,500 responses from practicing lawyers and law students. These results have provided us with unique insights into what people really think about their employers and schools. We believe our survey information furnishes our readers with a deep resource for comparing and evaluating these organizations, whether in the form of our Law Firm and Law School Directories, or in posts that take a deeper look at such factors as practice area, compensation, or geographic location. Many thanks to those thousands of readers who have shared their experiences.

Obviously, one subject that the ATL readership is passionate about is the world of Biglaw. Whether it’s to assess a potential employer, or to simply see how one’s firm compares to its peers, apparently there’s no end to the appetite for insider information. So as this year winds down, we’ll end on a happy note and have a look at which Biglaw firms are rated most highly by their own employees…

Our ATL Insider Survey asks attorneys at firms to evaluate their employers in terms of compensation, hours, training, morale, and culture. Below are the top-rated dozen firms by overall rating (an average of the five “quality of life” categories). Ratings are on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. We’ve also included a representative comment from the survey. Of course, not all of the comments are uniformly positive, but for this group, the sentiments expressed are typical.

1. Cooley 8.92 (overall rating)
compensation: 9.50 culture: 9.18 training: 8.64 morale: 8.82 hours: 8.45

They trust you to get your work done and don’t care where you do it. You can not show up at the office for a day or two and, as long as you’re doing quality work, nobody will say a thing to you. With almost no exceptions, the partners here are not just good people to work for, they’re good people. What I notice most is that, while people leave Cooley, they almost never leave to go to another big firm. It’s always in-house, a small lifestyle firm, or occasionally government, i.e., somewhere where they won’t have to put in big law hours. In my mind, that says a lot about the firm.

2. Davis Polk & Wardwell 8.46
compensation: 8.72 culture: 8.94 training: 7.91 morale: 8.56 hours: 8.15

If you actually enjoy the practice of the law and want to learn what there is to know about your chosen practice area, there is no better place to work than DPW. The open-door policy isn’t merely put on; I genuinely feel I can walk into anyone’s office (well, maybe not some of the partners’ offices) and start asking questions. My colleagues are happy to take the time to share their knowledge, most importantly because the environment is collaborative enough that they have an interest me getting up to speed.

3. Debevoise & Plimpton 8.37
compensation: 8.83 culture: 9.09 training: 8.35 morale: 8.39 hours: 7.17

The culture is wonderful. People are cordial to one another, there is excellent training, and reportedly you are encouraged to take all your vacation.

4. (tie) Simpson Thacher & Bartlett 8.17
compensation: 8.61 culture: 8.67 training: 8.11 morale: 8.06 hours: 7.42

Best Biglaw place. I am by far the happiest of all my friends who went to a big firm.

4. (tie) Sidley Austin 8.17
compensation: 8.64 culture: 8.68 training: 7.86 morale: 7.89 hours: 7.79

Sidley is a great place to practice Biglaw. While there will be times when you are under water and feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day (as is the nature with Biglaw), the people and culture make this a very humane and interesting place to work. Compared to stories I’ve heard from friends at other firms, I think associates at Sidley have it pretty great.

5. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati 8.16
compensation: 8.73 culture: 8.63 training: 8.33 morale: 7.80 hours: 7.33

Wilson Sonsini offers the best legal job around — entrepreneurial meritocracy, the best client base, endless opportunities, and smart helpful people. It is a unique place, perfect for the self-motivated over-achiever.

6. Paul Hastings 8.14
compensation: 8.76 culture: 8.32 training: 8.36 morale: 7.48 hours: 7.76

There is great mentoring, respect between partners and associates, work-life balance, ability to engage in real substantive experience and gain as much responsibility as any associate wants, and the atmosphere overall is relaxed.

7. Latham & Watkins 8.06
compensation: 8.67 culture: 8.61 training: 8.16 morale: 7.79 hours: 7.09

There are certain things that can’t be changed about Biglaw, and all those things are true about Latham too. That said, as Biglaw goes, Latham is a pretty nice place to do it. I thought an associate here put it well when he said the difference between Latham and other firms isn’t that you won’t be asked to stay and work until 4 a.m. on a Friday night sometimes; it’s that your supervisor will thank you after you do.

8. Gibson Dunn & Crutcher 7.96
compensation: 8.57 culture: 8.76 training: 7.14 morale: 7.94 hours: 7.39

The attorneys are almost universally bright, friendly, and funny. While there is unspoken competition for partner, the default mode is teamwork and collaboration. I can’t imagine working at any other firm.

9. (tie) Weil, Gotshal & Manges 7.90
compensation: 8.35 culture: 8.50 training: 8.09 morale: 7.32 hours: 7.24

LOVE Weil. Layoffs were managed professionally and out in the open. Did not affect the day to day or overall firm morale. Best in the world at restructuring and have incredible private equity and litigation practices. Treat their summers like gold.

9. (tie) Paul Weiss 7.90
compensation: 8.48 culture: 8.77 training: 8.19 morale: 8.10 hours: 5.94

I lateraled to PW, and the training, morale and culture and leaps and bounds ahead of my prior firm. The partners seem much more to understand the give and take of corporate work – i.e., they expect you to work hard when necessary, but not when it isn’t uncalled for. People here seem to enjoy working for PW much more than colleagues at other firms/my former firm.

10. Quinn Emanuel 7.89
compensation: 9.22 culture: 8.98 training: 7.26 morale: 7.55 hours: 6.45

The firm has the most interesting (in a good way) lawyers working here. People have interests and hobbies outside of billing…. [T]he fact is people here actually read books for fun, run marathons, backpack in the Canadian Rockies (as a group), and when they’re done, they beat up on the nerds at the other table.

Congratulations to all of these excellent firms. And a Happy New Year to everyone.

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