Michael Blair, Presiding Partner
University of Chicago, JD
75 (inc. returnees, SEOs)
Only law firm to have both former U.S. and UK Attorneys General as partners. Its White Collar and Regulatory Enforcement Practice includes 1 former U.S. Attorney and 10 former Asst U.S. Attorneys.
50% of all partners named at Debevoise in the last four years have been women.
Since 1995, advised clients in over 1,300 private equity funds worldwide, with committed capital of over $1T.
Advised Access Industries in its pending $7.15 billion acquisition of the oil and gas exploration and production assets of El Paso Corporation; it was the largest buyout deal of Q1 2012.
Won use of color trademark protection battle for Yves Saint Laurent against Christian Louboutin.
Litigation Chair Mary Jo White represented JP Morgan Chase in the mortgage foreclosure investigation conducted by the state Attorneys General and the U.S. DoJ, the NFL on the New Orleans Saints bounty matter, and Syracuse in connection with the sexual abuse allegations by a former asst coach.
Pro bono work is often an afterthought in the minds of attorneys who have more important things to do with their time — things like “churn[ing] that bill, baby!” But for others, it’s a commitment to fulfilling the very concept their naive and idealistic law school applications were premised upon: helping the people who need it most.
We know lawyers like rankings, so we thought we’d provide you with a way to measure a firm’s prestige and beneficence, all at the same time. Out of all of the Biglaw firms in the United States, which five are filled with the most worthy do-gooders? Let’s find out…
This infographic comes to us courtesy of LLM Info. Congrats if your firm is considered a pro bono all-star!
[W]hat I found most interesting was that their lives were often far more complex than they had predicted. Even the greatest of expectations, it seems, eventually encounter reality.
– Florence Martin-Kessler, a journalist and documentary filmmaker, offering commentary on the lives of 21 women who were interviewed by New York Times Magazine 12 years ago. At the time, they were fresh out of law school, incredibly idealistic, and about to begin careers at Debevoise & Plimpton, where they planned to conquer the world. Today, “only a handful” of them are still with the firm.
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.
Davis Polk 8.82
Debevoise & Plimpton 8.75 Paul, Weiss 8.50
Simpson Thacher 8.18 Latham 8.00
Average score for all firms: 6.96
Training Cravath 8.89
Latham 8.63 Wilson Sonsini 8.53
Ropes & Gray 8.50 (tie)
Debevoise & Plimpton 8.50 (tie)
Average score for all firms: 7.09
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
Wow, Davis Polk takes the top spot in both our corporate and litigation practitioner Insider Survey results. So it’s true: beautiful people are happier. Congratulations to Davis Polk.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
As is customary with our caption contests, we’ll now reveal the backstory behind the picture. A reader from Debevoise & Plimpton sent this over, noting, “In another example of businesses not understanding that Biglaw associates don’t make purchasing decisions, CSC Legal just sent this to all of the associates on my floor.” Oopsie. But hey, at least you got some free s’mores out of this company’s faux pas.
Without any further ado, here is the winning caption for our latest contest:
Looks like it’s bonus season again.
Thanks to everyone for suggesting comments and for voting. If you wrote the winning caption, feel free to email us, subject line “Caption Contest Winner,” to claim your prize (an Above the Law t-shirt).
Law firms across the land are running tighter ships these days. Even if your firm breaks the $2 million mark in profits per partner, which is good enough to put it in the top quarter of the Am Law 100, there’s no reason to dilute your PPP unnecessarily.
Consider the venerable law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, one of Biglaw’s most prestigious and profitable firms. Earlier this year, the firm parted ways with its trusts and estates practice, a move that was viewed in some quarters as designed to enhance profit.
First they came for the T&E lawyers. Then they came for the legal secretaries and other support staff….
We’ve received reports of voluntary buyouts and a small number of staff layoffs at Debevoise. We understand that “retirement-eligible” secretaries are being offered buyouts. The package consists of a lump sum payment of up to $25,000, depending on seniority, plus one week of pay for every year of service. It’s not clear what will happen if not enough secretaries take the deal, but given its generosity, hopefully we won’t find out.
We reached out to the firm, which confirmed the secretarial buyout offers, plus limited layoffs in other departments, in a statement:
We regularly review administrative staffing levels, and in light of continued technological and other changes in how law firms work, we have made the decision to make some modest reductions to our administrative staff through an incentivized voluntary retirement program within our secretarial department and a small number of headcount reductions in other areas. We are committed to working closely with our affected colleagues to provide them with appropriate severance and support.
Voluntary retirement packages are an important tool that institutions can use as they rightsize themselves. Hopefully some Debevoise secretaries are as financially secure as the ex-Biglaw secretary we recently interviewed who happily took a buyout. If they step forward to take the deal, then their needier colleagues can continue at the firm. (We saw this dynamic at work recently at Seton Hall Law School, which successfully avoided faculty layoffs because senior professors took buyouts.)
Here’s a question for the readership: does anyone know of a growing law firm that is actually looking to hire a large number of legal secretaries? If you’re aware of such a lifeboat, please email us or text us (646-820-8477). We’re not expecting much of a response to this request for a purple unicorn, but hey, you never know. Thanks.
1.For the record, I viewed the move of the Debevoise T&E lawyers to Loeb & Loeb as a potential win-win situation: “The Debevoise trusts and estates attorneys will probably wind up at a firm where they can continue to do excellent work, charge their clients much less in fees, and not get dirty looks in the elevator if they leave before 7 p.m.”
You’d be jumping for joy if you landed an offer from a top law firm.
It’s harder to be a partner in Biglaw today, both in terms of making partner and remaining a partner. You can no longer just coast along after making partner; you need to prove yourself and your value to the firm, year after year. That’s a change from past practice (and people can argue when exactly the change took place).
But some things in Biglaw haven’t changed. The practice of being generous with offers to summer associates — too generous, some might argue — is alive and well. Summer programs are smaller today than they were before the Great Recession, but offer rates remain robust.
Following up on Monday’s story, here are more firms that have given offers to all of their summers:
Debevoise & Plimpton (New York)
DLA Piper (D.C.)
DLA Piper (New York)
Latham & Watkins (Chicago)
Schulte Roth & Zabel (New York)
Sheppard Mullin (Orange County)
Skadden Arps (New York)
Skadden Arps (Wilmington)
Wiley Rein (D.C.)
Congratulations to everyone, at these firms and the firms we mentioned on Monday, on their offers.
If you have corrections to the list — i.e., an office listed above that does NOT belong on the 100 percent list — please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line “Summer Associate Offer Rate Correction,” or text us at 646-820-TIPS (646-820-8477).
If you have additions to this list, please note them in the comments to this post. At this point in time, we are not terribly interested in hearing about still more firms with 100 percent offer rates. It’s more newsworthy if a firm does NOT have a 100 percent offer rate than if it does.
On that note, please let us hear about firms that are NOT issuing offers to all their summer associates. If you know of a firm or an office with an unusually low offer rate — which we will arbitrarily define here as something under 66 percent, or two-thirds — please email us (subject line: “[Firm Name] Offer Rate”). We will then investigate and perhaps write a story. Thanks.
We’ve just entered August, so you know what that means: the start of on-campus interviewing season. If you’re a law student researching firms or a lawyer involved in your firm’s recruiting efforts, check out Above the Law’s law firm directory, where law firms get letter grades in different categories. Law firms might look alike on the surface, but there are very real differences between them, as our grading system reflects.
For example, law firms diverge when it comes to diversity. While every firm gives lip service to diversity, some firms have the goods to back up their claims, while others do not.
Let’s check out the latest diversity rankings, from two different news outlets, to see which firms are truly diverse….
Here are the top ten firms for diversity, according to the latest Vault rankings (i.e., the 2014 rankings):
Not much movement here, as you can see when comparing this list to last year’s top ten. Congratulations to Carlton Fields, which took top honors for the fifth year in a row. Congratulations to Ropes & Gray, Littler Mendelson, Debevoise & Plimpton, Jenner & Block, Shook Hardy & Bacon, and Baker Donelson, all of which remained in the top ten. And congratulations to Schiff Hardin, Cleary Gottlieb, Alston & Bird, and Paul Hastings, who broke into the top ten.
Who fell out of the top ten? Three firms, but they didn’t fall far, and they deserve kudos for remaining in the top 25: Paul Weiss (from #7 to #11), Foley Hoag (from #10 to #12), and Fenwick & West (from #8 to #13). You can check out the full list of top firms for diversity here.
Meanwhile, in June, the American Lawyer issued its latest Diversity Scorecard. The Am Law rankings diverge from the Vault rankings because they focus on different factors, as we’ve explained before: Am Law focuses exclusively on the percentage of minority lawyers and partners at a firm, in terms of racial and ethnic minorities, while Vault looks at diversity as it relates to minorities, women, LGBT individuals, and individuals with disabilities.
Here are the top ten firms from Am Law’s Diversity Scorecard (click to enlarge):
Congratulations to Lewis Brisbois, for taking the #1 spot yet again, and congratulations to the other top 10 firms, all of whom made the top 10 last year too: White & Case, Wilson Sonsini, Curtis Mallet, Fragomen, Munger Tolles, Kenyon & Kenyon, Fenwick & West, Bowman and Brooke, and Morrison & Foerster. You can access the complete Am Law list, which ranks 228 firms, over here.
No firm made both the Vault and Am Law top ten lists, but these ten firms made the top 25 on both:
Cleary Gottlieb: #7 for Vault, #13 for Am Law
Paul Hastings: #10 for Vault, #18 for Am Law
Paul Weiss: #11 for Vault, #21 for Am Law
Fenwick & West: #13 for Vault, #8 for Am Law
Munger Tolles: #17 for Vault, #6 for Am Law
Davis Polk: #19 for Vault, #18 for Am Law
Hughes Hubbard: #20 for Vault, #12 for Am Law
Irell & Manella: #22 for Vault, #20 for Am Law
Finnegan Henderson: #23 for Vault, #15 for Am Law
Weil Gotshal: #24 for Vault, #14 for Am Law
Congratulations to all of the firms honored by Vault and by the American Lawyer for their diversity. We’re not quite there yet when it comes to diversity in Biglaw, but thanks to these pioneering firms, we’re getting closer by the day.
For many law schools, the bidding process for the upcoming on-campus interview season closed yesterday. In bidding, schools quite reasonably advise students to select potential employers that align with their aspirations and geographic preferences. For example, the section of the Duke Law web site devoted to OCI admonishes students to “thoroughly research” potential employers and to “focus only on employers in whom you are genuinely interested and that match your career goals.” Presumably, one career goal shared by all law school graduates is to eventually be free of debt. As previously and repeatedly noted, for most, a Biglaw associate position is the only employment outcome which gives the graduate a plausible prospect of paying off his student loans.
So what shapes student perception of large law firms and drives the decision of the law student in prioritizing their OCI bids? No doubt there are unique versions of received wisdom that get passed from generation to generation of students at every school. And of course there are plenty of media entities measuring firms against one another: revenues (AmLaw), “prestige” (Vault), practice area prowess (Chambers) and so on. This being the time of year where Biglaw careers are just starting to be built, we thought it would be interesting to look at how students themselves rate law firms. Which firms are the law student favorites?
The ATL Insider Survey asks law students for their perception of specific firms as potential employers . Below are the top ten rated firms. For comparisons we’ve included the firms’ AmLaw 100 ranking, Vault ranking, and the ATL Insider Survey “Overall Satisfaction” Rating (as scored by attorneys currently working at the firms).
There don’t appear to be any clear correlations among these rankings, though it appears that Vault’s “prestige” rankings hold some sway. One striking disconnect is the appearance of Sullivan & Cromwell and Arnold & Porter in the top ten – both are among the Insider Survey’s lowest rated by attorneys currently practicing at those firms. In any event, congratulations to Cleary on being our student readers’ dream firm. Looking at survey comments we’ve received from practicing attorneys at our three top firms, the students’ positive perception of them as employers finds much support. Although not all the survey comments were this rosy—far from it—the quotes below are representative of a significant swath of insider opinion:
Cleary: The culture is terrific. People are not just nice but also interesting and proactively collegial. The cases, clients, and deals are high-level and interesting. Lock-step compensation means no competition between associates or partners for hours and labor. Open practice groups means the flexibility to gain general expertise in a variety of disparate areas. Hours are long and expectations are high, but it happens in a supportive and friendly environment.
Davis Polk: Best work you can get on the street, but, more importantly, best people to be working with. You’re going to end up being in the office at 3 am one day or the other regardless of which firm you choose, you might as well like the person sitting across from you while you’re there.
Gibson: Gibson Dunn is everything you’d want from a firm, at least relative to its peers in Biglaw: everyone is really friendly and easy to work with, the work is interesting and substantive (I’ve been here 4 months and I’ve gotten to write 2 motions and a section of a brief), the quality of work here is excellent (you really can trust anyone here with anything), it’s flexible in terms of hours and working at home, and the pay is competitive (even starting associates got stub bonuses).
Finally, if you have not yet done so, please take a couple of minutes and take our Insider Survey here.
Think Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) of Scandal, but with a Biglaw background.
Consulting is a popular path for law students and lawyers. Legal education and practice can help hone the analytical and communication skills required of consultants. Both lawyers and consultants solve problems — often complex, intractable problems — and are rewarded handsomely for their efforts.
Are you interested in pursuing consulting as a possible career path? Today we introduce you to a lawyer turned consultant who reminds us of Olivia Pope of Scandal — a high-powered troubleshooter who is confident, eloquent, and attractive….
Why did Valentine decide to leave a lucrative and secure legal job to launch her own business? How did she come up with the idea for Synergy? She recently revealed how she made the move from Biglaw to business in an interview with Spencer Mazyck of Bloomberg Law:
As Valentine tells Mazyck, she went to law school because she wanted to change the world. And now she’s doing just that, helping to launch and grow new businesses as a consultant for fellow entrepreneurs and start-up companies.
Congratulations to Nicole Valentine on her success thus far, and best of luck to her in the future. If you’re looking for a consultant to take your business to the next level, call up Valentine and ask her, “Will you be mine?”