Biglaw, Minority Issues, Pro Bono, Rankings

Ranking The Best In Biglaw: The Am Law A-List (2014)

Each year, associates and partners wait with anticipation for American Lawyer to roll out its signature rankings. First comes the influential Am Law 100, followed by the closely watched Am Law 200, and finally comes the annual A-List, the most associate-focused ranking of them all. This ranking identifies the most “well-rounded” of all Am Law 100 firms (i.e., the firms that are “the total package”).

The A-List differs from other Am Law rankings in that only one financial metric is involved — revenue per lawyer (RPL). The other factors included in this ranking are pro bono work, diversity, and most importantly, associate satisfaction. Double the weight is typically given to firms’ RPL and pro bono scores, and we usually see the same firms in the top three. That was not the case at all this time around.

This year, we’ve got a wildly different top three, and a new number one. Which 20 firms came out on top?

In the three years prior to the latest ranking, the same three firms dominated the top slots of the Am Law A-List, changing order slightly each time. For example, in 2013, they placed as follows:

1. Munger Tolles & Olson (3rd place in 2012; 2nd place in 2011)
2. Paul Hastings (2nd place in 2012; 3rd place in 2011)
3. Hughes Hubbard & Reed (1st place in 2012; 1st place in 2011)

Last year, we poked a bit of fun at Paul Hastings for its perennial placement in second and third place:

Poor Paul Hastings, always a bridesmaid and never a bride in the Am Law A-List. Keep up the good work with your associate satisfaction and pro bono work (near perfect scores on each), and maybe you’ll be able to snag a first place rating in 2014. For now, try to concentrate harder on making money.

Paul Hastings had never clinched the number one spot before — but this year, everything changed. As it turns out, the firm didn’t concentrate harder on making money; in fact, it had the exact same RPL score as last year. Nevertheless, Paul Hastings ascended to the top of the chart, with a worse performance than last year, leaving previous top competitors in the dust. How in the world did that happen? From Am Law:

Average scores for the 20 A-List firms in each of the ranking’s four metrics were largely stable from 2013, increasing or decreasing by just a point. (In fact, Paul Hastings’ first-place score in 2014 was lower than its second-place score in 2013.) But in most areas, the gap between higher-ranking and lower-ranking firms increased: In RPL, the range between the highest score and the lowest was 54 points, compared with 50 in 2013. In pro bono, it was 58 points, compared with 45; and in diversity, it was 91 points, compared with 82. The exception was associate satisfaction, where the range narrowed to 78, from 87 in 2013.

We’ve kept you waiting for long enough. Here are the top 10 firms of the 2014 Am Law A-List:

Here are some of the more interesting things we noticed about the firms in 2014’s Top 10:

  • Weil Gotshal, coming off of some major cuts at about this time last year, has the lowest RPL score of all the firms ranked at the top of the A-List.
  • Milbank Tweed’s associate satisfaction score is appalling. What the hell is going on over there? Feel free to email us or text us (646-820-8477) to let us know.
  • Hughes Hubbard’s diversity score dropped 55 points this year (ouch!), which the firm is calling a “short-term aberration.” Don’t fret, diversity is still a “major part” of the firm’s business model.

In case you were wondering, poor Munger Tolles is now sitting in the #11 spot thanks to its pro bono score, which dropped by 42 points. The rest of the list is available here. Congratulations to all the honorees.

In other news, American Lawyer reports on the firms that were bumped off this year’s A-List, in large part due to their associate satisfaction scores. Let this be a lesson for all firms — treat your associates well:

The four firms that fell off the A-List this year are Davis Polk & Wardwell, Jenner & Block, Shearman & Sterling and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Of the four, Davis Polk dropped the furthest, 19 spots, from 16th place, with a score of 1,015, on last year’s A-List, to 35th place, with a score of 887. While the firm’s diversity scores registered a small uptick, its pro bono score dropped 39 points (before being doubled), to 117, and its asso­ciate satisfaction ranking fell 50 points, to 90. Its RPL score also declined by two points. This year ends Davis Polk’s 11-year run on the A-List; it was one of the firms on the inaugural A-List in 2003.

Shearman & Sterling had the best showing of the four on the 2013 A-List with a score of 1,029 and a 10th-place ranking. The firm’s fall to 24th on this year’s A-List was driven in large part by a 74-point drop in its associate satisfaction score.

It’s worth noting that there are several firms listed on the A-List Honorable Mentions with sub-100 associate satisfaction scores. Here they are: Skadden Arps (95); Shearman & Sterling (91); Arnold & Porter (76); Sullivan & Cromwell (87); Davis Polk & Wardell (90); Fried Frank (69); Winston & Strawn (85); Wilson Sonsini (94); Williams & Connolly (0); Dechert (78); and White & Case (71). (This is the second year in a row Williams & Connolly has posted an associate satisfaction score of zero. We hope it’s a matter of associates not being told to vote or not turning in their votes; otherwise, that seems very problematic.)

Associate satisfaction scores will make you or break you in these rankings. Do better, Biglaw.

The 2014 A-List: 20 Stand-Out Firms [American Lawyer]
The A-List: A New Number One [American Lawyer]
The A-List [American Lawyer]
The A-List: Honorable Mentions [American Lawyer]

Earlier: Best in the Biglaw Show: The 2013 Am Law A-List

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