Rankings

As 2013 draws to a close, let’s look back at the 10 biggest stories in the legal profession over the past year. This is an annual tradition here at Above the Law, which we’ve done in 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. We’ll fire up the old Google Analytics machine to get data on our most popular posts, based on pageviews, and share the results with you.

Before turning to specific stories, let’s look at the top general discussion topics here at ATL. For 2013, our most trafficked category page was Biglaw, which bumped Law Schools out of the top spot — a spot that Law Schools held from 2010 through 2012. Now that the word is out about the perils of getting a law degree, leading to plummeting applications, perhaps it’s time to move on from the “don’t go to law school” narrative.

After Biglaw and Law Schools, our third most-popular category page was, as usual, Bonuses. This wasn’t a terribly exciting year for bonuses — there were no spring bonuses, and Cravath and its many followers paid out the same bonuses as last year — but people still want to know the score.

Our fourth most-popular category page was small law firms. Small firms, including boutiques, are an area of increasing focus and readership for us — and also where many of the job opportunities are these days.

Moving on from the topic pages, what were the 10 most popular individual posts at Above the Law in 2013?

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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…

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We’re still a few months out from seeing the latest edition of the U.S. News law school rankings — and the Above the Law Top 50 law school rankings — so in the meantime, we thought we’d have a little chat about the (sometimes extreme) mismatches some law schools have between their reputation and rank.

U.S. News measures reputation through peer assessment from law deans and tenured faculty on a scale from marginal to outstanding, and this score accounts for 25 percent of a law school’s overall ranking. It’s nice to know that what other people think about your law school is still more important than its job placement success (currently weighted at 20 percent).

So which law schools are doing better than their reputations suggest, and which ones aren’t living up to the hype? We’ve got the details on some of the best hidden gems and worst secret offenders for you…

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Since 2008, Crain’s New York Business has produced a list of the Best Places to Work in New York City. Each year, a few law firms sneak onto the list, much like the situation with Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

This year, seven law firms made Crain’s list, while only four made Fortune’s list, as of January 2012. Just two firms overlap between Crain’s and Fortune’s lists.

Which ones are considered tops in the city that never sleeps? Let’s find out…

Please note the UPDATE to this post below.

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It really does get better — and better, and better — for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.

This past June, the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), resulting in more-equal treatment of gay and lesbian couples for purposes of federal benefits. Around the country, 15 states and the District of Columbia now issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which bans workplace discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, is closer than ever to passage, having already made it through the Senate by a comfortable margin (64-32, reflecting bipartisan support).

Meanwhile, in the private sector, employers are becoming more and more welcoming of LGBT individuals. That’s the top-line finding of the Human Rights Campaign’s latest Corporate Equality Index — in which law firms are particularly well-represented….

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In an era when “disruption” is celebrated, the world of large law firms is one of the last redoubts of conventional wisdom. For a uniquely rule- and precedent-bound profession, this makes sense. Biglaw’s conventional wisdom has the added virtue of being reliable. For example, we can count on Cravath taking the lead — at least chronologically — on bonuses, and for DLA Piper to have the most random Third developing-world offices.

Another reflection of conventional wisdom is the way in which Biglaw lends itself to — and revels in — superlatives and rankings. There tends to be a generally acknowledged and perennially dominant player (or a few) in most practice areas: Wachtell Lipton for M&A, Weil Gotshal for Chapter 11 work, Patton Boggs for lobbying, and so forth. There’s no doubt that many worthy firms get overlooked.

Last year we took a look at which firms’ practice groups were considered “underrated” by peers in the field. Among the notable 2012 nominees: Cahill for corporate law, Arnold & Porter in litigation, and Proskauer for its bankruptcy and tax practices.

We wondered whether the same practice groups were still considered by practitioners to be unfairly underrated. Or are there other firms deserving more recognition?

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This coming Friday, it is the inalienable right of all Americans to sleep off their hangovers, or riot at Walmart, or do anything at all rather than work for The Man. But Biglaw is a different country. As illustrated by Elie’s decision matrix, the “choice” of whether to work on this sacred day is, for the denizens of the law firm world, fraught with other pressures and expectations. We all know that Biglaw careers demand a Faustian bargain: in return for their fat paychecks (and bonuses?), lawyers are expected to work grueling, unpredictable hours. This time of year, that reality is brought into sharp relief: the “holiday season,” with those “family obligations” and so forth, is something that occurs elsewhere.

But law firm billable expectations are not homogeneous. There are significant differences across practice areas, seniority levels, and, of course, individual firms. So how do the various practices, employment statuses, and firms stack up?

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When we talk about the Biglaw firms with the most good-looking attorneys, the conversation usually ends pretty quickly. Only one firm is known to hoard hotties like they’re going out of style, but word on the street is that another firm may be looking to dethrone the sovereign of sexiness.

Move over, Davis Polk, because you’ve got some competition….

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If you aspire to work in Biglaw, it’s likely that you’ve already got a certain air of je ne sais quoi about you. You’re probably a prestige whore who looks down your nose at others whom you deem to be inferior to you. You probably think you’re the sh*t, and you firmly believe that others should think so too. You know people call you a jerk behind your back, but you don’t care because you know they’re just jealous. You are the most special and unique of all snowflakes, and people should be honored to breathe the same air as you.

Congratulations! You’re an arrogant a-hole, and there are many firms that would be glad to have you among their ranks — because according to the latest survey results, they’re filled to the brim with people just like you.

Which Biglaw firms are just as cocky as you are? Luckily, there’s a ranking for that…

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If you’ve messed up and managed to get married without an airtight prenup, you’re going to have a messy divorce. Unless you have a fairy tale romance that can never be torn asunder, but statistically you don’t, so you should be planning for divorce. And congratulations to our gay brothers and sisters — with Illinois joining the 21st century this week as the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage, you too will soon have to begin planning for divorces.

But when you get divorced, who should you hire to represent you? One publication has compiled its list of the 10 divorce lawyers you don’t want across the table from you….

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