Rankings

Last year, all things considered, wasn’t a bad year for Biglaw. The law firms of the Am Law 100, for example, experienced decent growth. In 2011, for the Am Law 100 as a whole, gross revenue grew by 5.3 percent, revenue per lawyer grew by 1.9 percent, and profits per partner grew by 3 percent. It was a perfectly fine year for partners.

How did their counterparts on the corporate side fare? Alas, not as well, according to Corporate Counsel’s latest compensation survey of the nation’s general counsel. Base pay for GCs in the survey declined by 1.8 percent, to an average of $611,411. Bonuses and nonequity incentive pay slid by an even larger number, 7.7 percent, to an average of $1,125,458. Meanwhile, in terms of non-cash compensation, the average stock award fell by 10.8 percent, to $1,426,325, and the average stock option award dropped by a whopping 18.7 percent, to $732,453.

These are just the top-line figures — which, of course, conceal a lot of individual variability. Let’s take a look at some specific names and numbers, as well as the top ten highest-paid general counsel….

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Which law firms are the best law firms to work for? The ones that pay salaries (ideally in excess of $10,000 a year). In a still-challenging job market, law students and young lawyers will generally work for whichever law firm will have them.

But some prospective employees of Biglaw have the luxury of choosing between multiple employers. And for these privileged and talented few, things like quality of life — to the extent that one can have a quality of life, or a life at all, while toiling away at a top firm — do matter.

Last month, our friends at Vault issued their closely watched Vault 100 rankings, ordering the nation’s major law firms by perceived prestige. Now they’ve followed them up with their annual “quality of life” rankings, expressed as a list of the best law firms to work for.

Which firms made the top ten?

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Do you know why your parents always encouraged you to be a doctor or a lawyer when you were younger? Because you can still make bank in either field.

Although it seems that we’re constantly painting doom-and-gloom pictures of the imploding legal profession here at Above the Law, we’ve got to admit that for some, law is still a financially-booming career path. In fact, according to data pulled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, being a lawyer still has significant monetary perks. CNBC compiled a list of the 15 highest paying jobs in the country, and despite meager Biglaw bonuses and the Dewey effect, lawyers continue to reign near the top.

Where do lawyers fall on the list? Let’s find out….

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Since 1955, Fortune magazine has published the Fortune 500, a comprehensive ranking of the top closely held and public corporations in the United States as ranked by gross revenue. In the past, we’ve spoken about other Fortune magazine rankings, like its annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, where top law firms have been included year after year.

But it seems that lawyers have pervaded the Fortune 500 rankings as well, because some of the biggest companies in the nation are headed by law school graduates. As we noted in Morning Docket, of the 498 CEOs named on this year’s list, 46 of them went to law school.

But which schools did they attend? Let’s find out….

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* Pay up or shut up: Dewey former partners need to worry about getting our kneecaps busted by the banks that loaned us money to fulfill our capital contributions? [Am Law Daily (sub. req.)]

* Senate leaders reached a tentative deal to keep student-loan interest rates at 3.4%. Too bad this only applies to undergrads — law students are still left holding the bag. [Wall Street Journal]

* Your mom probably told you not to be a tattletale, but evidently that kind of behavior really pays off in court. Adam Smith, formerly of Galleon, was sentenced to only two years’ probation for his “very substantial” aid in Raj Rajaratnam’s insider trading trial. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Forty-six CEOs on the 2012 Fortune 500 list went to law school, but only four hold degrees from schools outside the U.S. News Top 100, and just one went to an RNP school. Yikes. [U.S. News & World Report]

* Was this Nova Law professor “mentally deranged enough to engage in a campus shooting rampage”? That’s apparently what members of the administration thought when they fired him. [National Law Journal]

* Anna Gristina, the accused “Millionaire Madam,” was released last night on $250K bond after spending four months behind bars. Looks like it’s back to the world’s oldest profession for this soccer mom. [Reuters]

If you want to get into Biglaw, it's all about the Ivy.

It’s a list that should mean more than it does: which law schools are best at sending their graduates to large law firms, aka Biglaw?

There are a lot of reasons this question isn’t asked more often: law schools don’t like their supposed professional value to be reduced to placements at top firms, prospective law students don’t like to think that in three years they’ll have a “Biglaw or bust” mentality, and Biglaw placement lists undervalue clerkship appointments (which often turn into Biglaw gigs a year or two later). Intellectually, it feels small-minded to put a heavy focus on whether or not a school sends a high proportion of its graduates straight into Biglaw after graduation.

Except that in a world with ever-rising tuition costs, the ability to place students in Biglaw is more important than ever. Biglaw jobs are pretty much the only ones out there that pay enough money for graduates to be able to manage their ridiculous debt loads. And there are fewer Biglaw jobs than before. Top law schools should be able to place well in Biglaw, or they should be offering tuition rebates to students.

If the kids who are thinking about going to law school refuse to pay attention to life’s realities, maybe the parents who are pushing their children into the legal profession will take note. Here are the top schools for placing in Biglaw. If your kid isn’t getting into one of these schools, maybe you should reconsider co-signing their loans…

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The new Vault Rankings are out. It’s a fun day for large law firms — a day when their prestige is matched against that of their peers.

The day is even more significant this year, since it appears that so-called “top” Biglaw firms are now paying bonuses largely in “prestige points.”

Vault ranks the prestige of firms based on nearly 17,000 surveys sent to law firm associates all across the country. Just by looking at the top ten firms, I think we can agree that associates who fill out these surveys have no memory and have really enjoyed this period of salary stagnation.

As I mentioned last week when talking about associate hours, it seems Biglaw partners really know what they’re doing. Whether we’re talking about prestige or associate hours, partners have figured out that associates will take less money and like it….

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Susan Poser

The media and other experts might do well to check out what’s going on with legal education in the vast expanse in the middle of this beautiful country. They might be surprised at what they find.

University of Nebraska College of Law Dean Susan Poser, criticizing the U.S. News law school rankings in a letter to the editor of the New York Times. (Dean Poser was writing in response to Professor Brian Tamanaha’s recent op-ed piece on how to make law school affordable.)

This week, the law school press has been focused on the UC Hastings College of Law. Hastings Law Dean Frank Wu announced that his school would be voluntarily reducing its enrollment by 20 percent over the next three years.

The mainstream press has noticed, too. The Wall Street Journal did an article about Wu’s attempt to “reboot” legal education, and the Dean gave a long interview to USA Today.

Hastings isn’t the first law school to reduce enrollment, but the school’s move is more significant because of the rhetoric Dean Wu is putting behind it. Wu is making the philosophical case against huge law school class sizes in this challenging job market.

But is it all about changing the nature of legal education, or is Hastings being pushed into these moves by the familiar forces of disappointing employment statistics, and a desire to climb up the U.S. News rankings? Critics have said that the school isn’t “voluntarily” doing anything.

Then again, if Hastings is doing something objectively good for prospective students, maybe it doesn’t even matter how the administration came to the decision….

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As we mentioned last week, the American Lawyer recently released its highly influential, closely watched Am Law 100 law firm rankings. And despite all the doom and gloom permeating the legal profession, as well as the stagnant bonuses for associates lucky enough to make it into Biglaw, partners at large law firms are living just as large as ever.

In a way, the recovery in Biglaw is not unlike the recovery in America in general. If you were already well-off, you’re doing great now. It’s just not trickling down to anybody else. See, e.g., anemic spring bonuses.

Interestingly enough, the division of the world into “haves and have-nots” continues even into the world of major law firms. Partners at super-top-tier firms are putting even more distance between themselves and partners at less high-powered or less profitable firms.

Let’s look at the numbers, shall we?

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