Rankings

Here at Above the Law, we’ve been writing about the “Biglaw boys’ club” for quite some time. According to the latest report compiled by the National Association of Women Lawyers, when it comes to firm life in the fast lane, women continue to have difficulty ascending to the ranks of firm leadership. In fact, that study concluded that in the Am Law 200, women hold only 20 percent of the positions on firm governance committees. What’s worse is that only four percent of Am Law 200 firms have a firmwide managing partner who’s a woman. So much for girl power.

But when it comes to Am Law 100 firms, the American Lawyer recently conducted a similar study, and the results were less than awe-inspiring — in their discussion of the results, the editorial staff go so far as to refer to it as “the law of small numbers.” Lovely. Apparently the glass ceiling is still strong in Biglaw.

So what does the leadership hierarchy look like for women in the Am Law 100? Let’s find out….

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Lawyers are obsessed with rankings and prestige, especially those that have to do with emerging markets in the eastern hemisphere. It’s a new year, so the folks at Asian Lawyer decided to start it off with a new rankings system for Biglaw firms, both American-based and those indigenous to the Asia-Pacific region.

Although Asian Lawyer evaluated firms using several different metrics (total attorney headcount of firms based in the Asia-Pacific region, biggest American firms with lawyers in the region, biggest European firms with lawyers in the region, and most attorneys by headcount of any firm in the region), we only really care about two of them.

The most some Americans know about the region is that they’re fans of the delectable cuisine, but can U.S. law firms hang with the Asiatic big boys? No matter how many firms tell you it’s the motion of the ocean that counts, size does matter for the purposes of these rankings….

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It’s the last day of December, so it’s a good time to look back on the year that was. We’ll do what we’ve done for the past three years (wrap-up posts from 2009, 2010, and 2011 can be found here, here, and here) and identify the ten biggest stories of the past year as decided by you, our readers. With the help of Google Analytics, we’ve compiled a list of our top ten posts for 2012, based on traffic (as represented by pageviews).

By the way, for the third year in a row, the most popular category page on Above the Law was Law Schools. People have now been intensely focused on the declining value proposition of going to law school for as long as it takes to earn a Juris Doctor degree. Isn’t it time that we graduate from the current educational model?

The second and third most-popular categories on ATL in 2012 were Biglaw and Bonuses. Although this year brought us the largest law firm failure ever, nearly all other firms indiscriminately doled out offers to summer associates, and bonus season looked better for the first time in years. While the legal profession is still in transition, things are certainly looking up, and through the highs and the lows, we’ve been there to cover it all.

So what were the ten most popular individual posts at Above the Law in 2012? Let’s find out….

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This is the time of year, every year, where most of us pause and reflect a bit on the past year, the year ahead, and what really matters anyway (see, e.g., this guy). And with the horror and pain of last week still fresh, this need for reflection is bound to be more pronounced.

Many thoughtful people are urging serious reflection on the part of the legal industry about how to address its basic structural problems. Not to put too fine a point on it, but does anybody disbelieve that the industry — both its educational and professional wings — is facing a sort of existential crisis? As has been endlessly rehearsed here and elsewhere, the cost of legal education is, for most, completely, utterly out of whack with the potential ROI. And longstanding assumptions underlying the business model of law firms are being challenged by technological advances, commoditization, and the growth of LPOs.

One concept threading through any discussion of the legal industry is this nebulous thing called “prestige.” Generally speaking, lawyers as a group dislike uncertainty, and “prestige” serves as a sort of organizing principle, letting everyone know where they stand. For instance, the U.S. News “T14” shows no sign of ever being shaken up. And the Biglaw hive mind consistently orders firms in precise ways. The Vault rankings are remarkably stable from year to year, to such a degree unlikely to be attributable to some self-reinforcing cycle caused by the rankings themselves. An arbitrary and typical example: Schulte Roth, which came in at #77 overall in 2010, ranked 80, 77, 76, and 82 over the previous four years. Another: Alston & Bird, which came in at #55, ranked 57, 61, 59, and 57 over the same period.

But apart from its role as a social validator or organizer, this idea of “prestige” can be used as a dubious metric in driving some truly momentous decisions. Law students make hugely important career choices based on little else but the Vault and U.S. News rankings. Some law schools lie in order to game the U.S. News rankings. It is at least partially underlying Dewey & Leboeuf’s push to join the more rarefied ranks of the S&C’s and Cravath’s. (Meanwhile, the ATL commentariat goes beserk at the slightest whiff of “TTT” anywhere within its sights.)

After the jump, let’s hear from a couple disparate sources about the baleful effects of prestige-obsession on the legal industry, and then let’s have the Harvard guy defend it….

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* Joe Patrice reposted this on his site and I’m linking to it because it’s a great look at the rhetorical weaknesses of the pro-gun argument. It’s old, so you can’t say that he’s being reactionary to the current tragedy. [Recess Appointment]

* Here’s a very good takedown of the self-serving law school rankings from Loyola Law School (LA) Professor Theodore Seto, who magically finds that Loyola Law is the 25th best law school for becoming a Biglaw partner. [Witnesseth]

* Is the procedural posture of same-sex marriage sexy? [Opinionator / New York Times]

* The jury system is dumb. [The Republican]

* And so is arguing over rate increases, according to Susan Hackett; it’s just a distraction from the real conversation that needs to take place about the appropriate pricing of legal services? [Legal Rebels / ABA Journal]

As we reach the end of the year, it’s time to step back and assess 2012 as it draws to a close. In the legal world, things have certainly changed from years past, but the one thing that remains constant is the focus on the state of our nation’s legal education. Something’s got to give, and while no one agrees exactly on what needs to change, many have influenced the way the discussion has developed with their insightful visions for the future.

At the end of the day, certain voices were more powerful than others. Whether through reducing class sizes or increasing the transparency of employment statistics, certain individuals have wrought substantial change in the way that law schools are currently operating — and have laid the groundwork for how law schools will be run in the future.

Whose words mattered most? Let’s take a look at this year’s most influential people in legal education….

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The news of the K&L Gates / Middletons merger, which looks a lot like the acquisition of Middletons by K&L Gates, got us thinking about the value of law firms. It’s quite apropos given that Middletons is based in Australia, home of the world’s first publicly traded law firm.

As we mentioned in yesterday’s Morning Docket, the American Lawyer recently set out to determine the world’s most valuable law firms. How did Am Law go about doing this, and which leading law firms sit atop their rankings?

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Ed. note: This is the first in a new series, “Across the Desk,” from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” will take a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital and related issues. Some of these pieces will have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.

As noted in the American Lawyer recently, the lateral recruiting boom of recent years continues unabated. As the Am Law article points out, “At the same time [as they’re focused on hiring lateral partners], firms appear to be homing in on their poor performers. Nine out of 10 survey respondents said their firm has ‘unprofitable’ partners, and seven out of 10 said their firms have partners at risk of being deequitized or ‘put on performance plans.’ As one survey respondent put it: ‘There are too many partners without sufficient billable work.'”

Now, wouldn’t you think it would make sense — if firms are worried about underperformers — to pay some attention to associates as well as partners? After all, some of those associates should, speaking theoretically at least, be your future partners.

Yet there’s unrebutted evidence that firms look at the wrong criteria when hiring associates….

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If you pour this into a cup of coffee, it doesn’t taste as bad.

* Dear New York City, you can take my caffeine when you want to become “the city that sleeps sometimes and charges rents that can be earned while working only eight hours a day.” Not a moment before. [Reason]

* They want to put Lenny Dykstra in jail, but the Wilpons get to run around free. [Dealbreaker]

* Fracking might never have developed without our unique “subsurface” property rights. In a different life, understanding this stuff is why I thought it’d be good to go to law school. Studying law > Practicing law > Paying for your legal studies. [Volokh Conspiracy]

* Okay, hear me out. How about every owner who won’t make their building wheelchair accessible for “aesthetic” reasons has to contribute every year to help fund research in the design of a wheelchair that can also climbs steps. Then they have to contribute to the fund that will get these new “chairsteppers” out to all the people who need them. Think about it, disabled people would get a better product, and ramps would be a thing of the past. Don’t tell me the tech is beyond us, if we can make amphibious attack vehicles/tour buses, we can make a wheelchair that climbs steps. [Simple Justice]

* Do it yourself divorces now coming to Texas for indigent clients with no children. So, to recap, when gay people want to get married in Texas, it’s an affront to God and traditional America. But when childless heterosexuals want to get divorced, it’s just a simple legal matter that shouldn’t require a lawyer. [Tex Parte Blog]

* Thanks to Cision Blog for including us in their rankings. [Cision Blog]

As we near the end of 2012, we can definitely declare this year to be a momentous one for LGBT rights and equality. Two federal appeals courts struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (and the Supreme Court will soon consider whether to grant review in the DOMA litigation, which it almost certainly will). On Election Day, voters across the country came out in favor of marriage equality. The good people of Wisconsin elected Tammy Baldwin to the U.S. Senate, making her our nation’s first openly gay senator.

Despite these advances, being an LGBT attorney presents unique challenges. When it comes to welcoming gay and lesbian lawyers, not all firms are created equal.

The good news, though, is that Biglaw made a big showing in the Human Rights Campaign’s latest Corporate Equality Index, which scores large U.S. employers in terms of how LGBT-friendly they are in their policies and practices. Which firms are letting their rainbow flags fly?

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