Staci here. Earlier this month, Vault released its closely watched rankings of the nation’s 100 most prestigious law firms. It was there that we learned Wachtell Lipton held onto its title as the most prestigious firm in America for the twelfth year in a row — but not by much. Cravath was very close to snatching the crown, and we’ll see how this grudge match pans out next year.
In the meantime, please don’t think that we’ve forgotten how much our loyal readers enjoy Biglaw rankings. Perhaps your firm isn’t the most prestigious, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have clout. Some law firms reign supreme when it comes to certain practice areas, and others are known to dominate entire regions of the country.
Which law firms are considered to be at the top of their game by practice area and region? Let’s find out!
For the purposes of the practice area ranking, Vault asked associates to vote for up to three firms they think of as the strongest in their own practice area, and the overall ranking indicates the firms that received the highest percentage of votes. Associates were not allowed to vote for their own firm, which we’re sure made many recovering gunners very, very sad. Current gunners may find this list useful if they know which area they’d prefer to practice in. Pay attention, prospective laterals, because this is useful for you, too.
We’ve picked out a dozen of the practice areas that were ranked by Vault (you can see the full list here):
General Commercial Litigation: Quinn Emanuel (last year: Quinn Emanuel)
Appellate Litigation: Gibson Dunn (last year: Gibson Dunn)
Products Liability: Skadden (last year: Skadden)
Litigation Boutiques: Susman Godfrey (last year: Susman Godfrey)
General Corporate Practice: Wachtell Lipton (last year: Skadden)
Securities: Davis Polk (last year: Skadden)
Bankruptcy: Weil Gotshal (last year: Weil Gotshal)
Energy, Oil and Gas: Vinson & Elkins (last year: Sidley Austin)
Intellectual Property: Fish & Richardson (last year: Fish & Richardson)
Labor and Employment: Littler Mendelson (last year: Littler Mendelson)
Real Estate: Fried Frank (last year: Fried Frank)
Tax: Skadden (last year: Skadden)
(Lat here. A lot of these rankings make sense — e.g., Quinn in general commercial, Gibson in appellate, Susman for best boutique, Fried Frank in real estate, Skadden in tax — but some are open to question. Has Skadden maintained its dominance in products work since the loss of Sheila Birnbaum and Mark Cheffo? Wachtell is an amazing M&A firm, and it topped the Vault ranking for M&A, but is it really the best “general corporate practice”? There are many areas of transactional practice that Wachtell does very little of — intentionally so, to maintain its M&A focus and sky-high profits. Okay, back to Staci.)
Next up, we’ve got a ranking that matters to those who think “location, location, location” is the most important thing in life. Vault’s regional rankings are based on votes tabulated from associates who were asked to rate firms on a 1 to 10 scale based on their prestige within the region.
Here’s the list of prestige by region from Vault. It should be noted that the only year-over-year upset was in Texas, where Vinson & Elkins stole the title from Baker Botts. No wonder they’re all so happy!
Atlanta: King & Spalding
Boston: Ropes & Gray
Chicago: Kirkland & Ellis
Miami: White & Case
Midwest: Jones Day
New York: Wachtell Lipton
Northern California: Morrison & Foerster
Southern California: Gibson Dunn
Pacific Northwest: Perkins Coie
Texas: Vinson & Elkins
Washington, DC: Williams & Connolly
(Lat again. These rankings also make sense — or at least align with conventional wisdom — for the most part. I do wonder, though, whether they unduly favor the biggest of Biglaw firms. There are cases to be made for the likes of Munger Tolles in California, Susman Godfrey in Texas, and Kellogg Huber in Washington. Still, at the end of the day there’s no disputing the fact that the firms mentioned above are some of the best names in the business.)
Congratulations to the firms that moved up in this year’s practice area and regional rankings, and congratulations to all the firms that made the cut in the first place. It must be nice to see which firms associates consider as their peers in prestige, and it must be even nicer for partners to know whose pricing models they need to undercut the next time around.